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February 18, 2011

If two is not a winner, and three no one remembers, what about Number 4?

It’s not entirely surprising that a blockbuster movie like I Am Number Four would be filled with Hollywood clichés. The film is a mix of typical high-school romantic comedy and sci-fi. The only original thing about the movie is that it puts the two together. Otherwise, it’s everything you expect from these two genres.

Alex Pettyfer plays John Smith, an undercover alien who resembles a typical teenager in every way except for his glowing blue hands and sporadic superpowers. He’s one of the last of his kind, and must constantly remain on the run to escape from the Magadorians, another race of aliens that wants to hunt down and kill him. The result is that he moves from place to place, becoming the new kid in a typical Hollywood high school.

As is expected, he falls for Sara (Diana Agron), the popular girl who dated football player Mark (Jake Abel), your usual jock and bully. Of course, the new kid makes friends with the kid who’s bullied by the football team. Then, of course, come the obvious scenes between the new kid and the girl he has his eye on from the beginning. They’re slightly awkward, as such a script requires, but they inevitably fall for each other.

To alleviate this predictability, we get the alien invasion, though this is left fairly undeveloped. The film is based on a book, where all of this is perhaps explained. But this movie is not advertised as a novel adaptation. The audience of this movie is one that needs this context explained.

The Magadorians are hunting these aliens because somehow killing them all will help them take over planet Earth. This culminates, of course, in a ridiculous, over-the-top, sparks-flying, buildings-blowing-up climax full of huge monsters, guns, and stunts. However, since John’s race, the history of his planet, and his own personal history are never really developed or explained, we really don’t care who wins the war. We only care about John because he’s a well-developed character, though he’s stuck in a plot which makes him irrelevant.

John stands up for what he believes in, for those who are bullied and for those he loves. And he has the capacity to “truly” love, per his alien nature. Unlike humans, he loves only once, and he loves unconditionally (interesting comment about human nature, by the way). He cares about the girl he falls for, and you know he’ll go to any length to keep her safe from the weird scary aliens. And, most of all, he’s searching for a home and to find others like him. He embodies a struggle to belong, and does so powerfully.

However, this problem is solved in deus ex machina fashion when Number Six (Teresa Palmer), another alien from John’s planet, shows up. She’s pretty kick-ass, although of course she’s skinny and impractically clothed, per Hollywood convention. She shoots and fights her way through the ending and saves John and his girl. Once she and John start working together, he is in perfect control of his powers, which only a few days ago had been only budding and uncontrollable.

In the end, it’s not clear what audience the film is targeting in this undeveloped mashup of genres. As a high school rom-com, it’s absolutely predictable, and the only redeeming feature is John’s character. As an alien invasion movie, it’s not scary or interesting. The film is really disappointing, because Alex Pettyfer is a talented actor. A few years ago he starred as a teen spy in the film Alex Rider: Operation Stormbreaker, which was an action movie with depth and character development. Pettyfer became his character, and the movie was perfect. After such perfection, it’s so disappointing to see his talent wasted on a movie with lots of special effects and CGI monsters but no depth or suspense or plot.

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