Review: I Am Number Four

Evaluating just how bad a truly terrible movie is can be a bit difficult. In the case of I Am Number Four, I would have qualified my assertion that this is one of the most irredeemably stupid and inept movies I’ve ever seen by noting that it was a movie aimed at teenagers and I’m over 30, thus raising the possibility that it’s something I simply don’t get, were it not for the fact that I watched the movie in a packed theater full of teenagers, and when the opening credits rolled, so did every eye in the house. The theater groaned as one.

Usually, even the very worst movies have some memorable element, some moment where however briefly, the movie was enjoyable. The worst of all are bad in such strange and original ways—like the work of Ed Wood or Tommy Wiseau—that they’re actually even more enjoyable than a lot of good movies. I Am Number Four is the worst of all possible worlds, the catastrophic train wreck I feared when reviewing its trailer, a movie that is badly made, appallingly written, and worst of all, boring.

It doesn’t want for action. Protagonist John Smith (Alex Pettyfer) finds light shooting out his hands almost every other scene, usually while jumping superhuman distances through the air, beating up several bad guys at once, and telekinetically tossing cop cars around. An attractive Australian woman who dresses in leather (Teresa Palmer) blows up a building and walks, attractively, toward the camera in slow motion…and yet it’s just like, “Oh, wow, an explosion, yawn.” The climax features several large creatures snarling and having a football field-destroying alien wrestling match, and even THAT is boring.

The fault of this can be laid squarely at the feet of the writers. (I won’t mention any of them by name, out of generosity.) The premise of the movie is that John Smith is one of nine alien kids from a planet called Lorien, which was destroyed by a malevolent, gilled race of baddies called the Mogadorians who have followed the nine alien kids to Earth (where they all went, apparently) and are killing them one by one, in numerical order (the protagonist is, in case we’ve forgotten, Number Four). Rather than reveal this through narrative, John Smith tells us all this information in a voice-over about five minutes into the movie. With nothing to discover, the audience is left sitting there waiting for something else to blow up.

And, of course, to see if anything will happen the entire movie with a shred of intelligence to it. For one glaring example, John Smith’s alien protector, Henri (Tim Olyphant), has a computer setup sophisticated enough that if John Smith—who’s supposed to be hiding so the Mogadorians can’t find him—has a photo taken of him and uploaded to the internet, he can delete it within seconds. He is, also, let us remember, an alien. How then, is he vexed by the firewall of two random nerds in Indiana with a conspiracy theory website? Aliens, it is clear, are terrible at IT. (They haven’t learned a thing from when Jeff Goldblum hacked the mothership with a MacBook in Independence Day.) Kind of makes you wonder how they got all the way across the universe to Earth in the first place….

I ended up getting rather angry at how stupid I Am Number Four was. This is not because I went in expecting a masterpiece. I’ve always tried—especially now that I’m a semi-pro critic—to go into a movie emotionally neutral and allow the movie to make its case for itself. But I Am Number Four lost me within minutes. Between the shoddy special effects, the naked attempts to market its glowing weapons as toys, and the incessant, fetishistically composed shots of iPhones, I Am Number Four would have been irritating even if it hadn’t been the worst-written studio picture in my lifetime. (Yes, its script is worse than Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.) This is a movie that everyone involved should let pass out of the public eye, and then subtly amend their resumes to pretend that it never existed. It will be profitable enough that it won’t end any careers, but this movie should not be spoken of in polite society. Do not speak of it to me again. I will react impolitely.  


Danny Bowes is a playwright, filmmaker and blogger. He is also a contributor to nytheatre.com and Premiere.com.

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