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I Am Number Four has all the ingredients to have become a surefire hit amongst the young adult set. It's got a handsome, mysterious boy who falls for a shy but cute high school girl. It's got aliens and superpowers as metaphors for teenage feelings of isolation. Hell, it's even got an ass-kicking Australian chick for the fellas. It's a shame, then, that I Am Number four spends most of its time focused on its least interesting elements.
John Smith (Alex Pettyfer) is an alien sent to Earth to escape the destruction of his world. No spoilers: you find this out within the first ten minutes. Now a teenager, he and his guardian, Henri (a slumming Timothy Olyphant), are forever trying to stay ahead of the evil Mogadorians who are trying to kill John and his other eight counterparts (of which he is -- you guessed it -- number four). Things get complicated when John develops Twu Wuv for a shy high school girl named Sarah (Glee's Dianna Agron). Soon John is more interested in making goo-goo eyes at Sarah than getting the hell out of dodge before the Mongolians or whatever show up and filet him.
Strangely for a movie of this type, I Am Number Four isn't really an origin story. While everyone always complains about origin stories, there's a reason they're so prevalent. By giving us a relatable protagonist who develops amazing powers, the audience gets to go on the same process of discovery as the hero. Since most people probably don't know the book's backstory, letting us learn about John's origins and powers as he does would create a bond that simply isn't there in the finished film. Instead, John starts out the movie already knowing his alien background, and much of it is revealed to us right out the gate in an expository voiceover (never a good sign).
To make matters worse, when John gets around to revealing his secrets to his new friends, the film has to retread ground already covered. This may all be based on the source material, but this is one occasion where it would have made sense to part ways, especially since I Am Number Four tries to have it both ways. While John's origins are revealed up front, he only discovers his powers, or "legacies," over the course of the story. If John was already going to travel that narrative arc, why not make his alien birth part of that discovery process, and thus give the movie a much less clumsy way to deliver all the backstory?
While the expository acrobatics are annoying, they're not what really hurts I Am Number Four. Since it's based on a young adult novel, it's no surprise that the story spends a good chunk of time trying to play up the blossoming romance with Sarah. Hey, it worked for Peter Parker, right? Unfortunately, this subplot is by far the least interesting, and John and Sarah spark off each other about as well as a pile of wet newspaper. The romance feels like it only exists because this is ostensibly a teen-targeted movie, so by golly we've got to have some smooching.
Things finally pick up in the third act with the arrival of Number Six, played with gusto by Teresa Palmer (Take Me Home Tonight). Number Six is a fireproof teleporter who rides a Ducati and kills aliens with edged weaponry. Sounds like fun, right? Which makes it all the more baffling that we get only brief teases of Six until she shows up for the last half-hour. Coincidentally, this is right around the time when John starts using his powers for something other than taking revenge on local bullies. The action featuring John and Six kicking alien ass are well staged and exciting, and Palmer is a natural at playing the girl-power heroine. In fact, the final act is such a contrast to what came before that you can't help but wonder why the hell we had to sit through an hour of Twilight-lite to get to the fun part.
Not that I'm suggesting the movie should have been nothing but wall-to-wall action. Without character development the action scenes would have no stakes. But if you're going to spend two-thirds of your movie setting up the awesome stuff, you'd better make sure the stuff before the fireworks is just as interesting. That's where I Am Number Four fails.
For fans hoping to dig deeper into the world and making of I Am Number Four, this set doesn't have much to tide you over. Both the Blu-ray and DVD copies include the lone featurette, entitled "Becoming Number Six." Just like it sounds, this segment focuses entirely on Teresa Palmer, mostly on the fight training and stunt work she did for the role. The actress is effortlessly charming throughout, so I can certainly understand why you'd give her her own featurette. However, it does highlight even more the strange decision to only use her in the third act of the movie. The producers clearly realized they had a winner with Palmer and Six...shouldn't that have suggested she might merit a larger presence?
The Blu-ray exclusively includes a selection of deleted scenes, and while these are typical of this sort of bonus feature -- forgettable -- I do have to praise the way the disc presents them. Usually with deleted scenes, you'll either get the scenes alone, or you'll have the option to watch them with commentary. While it's nice to have something to put the scenes in contest, this means you have to watch the deleted scenes twice if you want the full experience: once as they were shot, then once with the commentary on. Instead, I Am Number Four has director D.J. Caruso provide a short introduction for each scene. This is a much more natural way to explore the scenes, and I wish everybody would do it this way.
Finally, both the Blu-ray and DVD copies include a brief gag reel. As with most gag reels, I'm sure it was hilarious at the wrap party, but for the rest of us, it isn't worth two minutes of your life.
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