I Am Number Four takes it self seriously, but is fun

I Am Number Four – 2011

Directed by D.J. Caruso

Starring Alex Pettyfer, Timothy Olyphant, Teresa Palmer, Dianna Agron, Callan McAullife, Kevin Durand

Written by Alfred Gough, Miles Millar, Marti Noxon, based on I am Number Four by Pittacus Lore (Jobie Hughes and James Frey)

The name James Frey is a fount of controversy ever since his book, A Million Little Pieces, foolishly endorsed by Oprah in her silly book club, was revealed to be based on fraudulent claims.  While he was navigating that mess, he kept his options open in another venture, pumping out kids novels hiring writers on the cheap.  The venture, named Full Fathom Five, paid authors little up front with a 30% take on the profits, more if the book is a hit.  I Am Number Four is the product of the first real success of Frey’s venture.  According to an article in New York magazine, he provided the story to Jobie Hughes, a struggling writer born in Renton, Washington, but raised in Ohio, and sold the movie rights to Spielberg and Bay as Hughes wrote the book Under the pseudonym Pittacus Lore, it was released by Harper Collins, spending 7 weeks atop the NY Times Bestseller List.  In light of that kind of beginning, you’d have a right to be suspicious.  Watching the movie version of the book, however, I find that you don’t have to be suspicious, or all that serious, about it.

One of the things that the movie has going for it is it’s Director, Dreamworks Studio designated director, D.J. Caruso.  His Disturbia and Eagle Eye, while somewhat generic in material, were expertly drawn and both turned a tidy profit.  This movie, with even more bland characters in general, is treated with more respect than it probably deserves.  As a result, it comes off pretty well, for a piece obviously marketed for kid’s whose parents are concerned with what they are watching.  You know, the type of parent that is not trying to be a “buddy,” and there by has no opinion on what their kids watch, or how much older a person the kid is dating at age 13.

This is one of those films where the PG-13 is actually a little on the high side for ratings.  Kids from 10 to 12 should have no problems adjusting to the scariest scenes, if they’ve seen either of the Transformers films.  The characters are not groundbreakingly original, but they aren’t entirely lame either.  If you think this something less than a ringing endorsement, you are right.  An example is the high school jock.  Yep, he’s a jerk of the Cobra Kai edition, but is not impervious to external data.  He isn’t stupidly obvious, either.  The nerd, while not a genius, is not the kind to drop his folders all over the floor when he sees a cute girl, either.

Now, for Number Four…he’s an alien, but not just any alien.  He is special.  In the post Twilight world, this is where we are, folks.  It’s nothing to be a vampire or an alien anymore.  There needs to be a twist.  This time, we get to see the reveal of his special abilities.  Alex Pettyfer plays the special alien quite seriously, kind of like any of the characters from Terminator: The Sarah Conner Chronicles.  The range is limited to opening his eyes widely when encountering something strange, but it expands towards the end of the film, much like any character who goes from being surprised the being the surprise.  Diana Agron plays the love interest with the same limits, adding none of the feminine wile and guile which made her a favorite on the television show, Glee.  Only Teresa Palmer, as a mysterious blonde searching for Number 4, and Kevin Durant the Commander of the bad guys (Magadorians), looks like they are having any fun out there.

Still, it is a crisply moving story, and does not ponder on its effects.  There is a series to kick off, here, and kick it off, they do.  The result is a movie that I probably won’t remember all that much, but it won’t shatter my kids to read or watch.  When I was a kid, long ago, I remember watching a show called Danger Island, which was a cliff-hanger serial on The Banana Splits.  Many fond memories sprang from that show, yet, many years later, I realize it really wasn’t very good at all.  Still, it was harmless fun at the time.  I Am Number Four is a little better than this, but not much.

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