Most films that can be said to be bifurcated are strong in the first half and tail off towards the end. Few films fly in the face of the screenwriting axiom that first acts are easy and it’s keeping interest through the second act that is truly a challenge. I am Number Four does do that to an extent but it still fails to salvage itself.
It’s not as if the film doesn’t try, it most certainly does that. A lot of the fault is in trying too hard. It does a lot of legwork in the beginning to establish the players in this tale from John (Alex Pettyfer) to his protector, Henri (Timothy Olyphant), to Number 6 (Teresa Palmer) in small and mysterious, at the time, introductory scene, to Sam, the sidekick with a secret attachment to this world (Callan McAuliffe), Sarah, the love interest that tears at John’s world (Dianna Agron) to Mark (Jake Abel) Sarah’s ex and John’s earthly antagonist.
Not to mention the actual antagonists the Mongadorians, who come from a planet of extra-nostriled Voldemorts. While it’s a good thing that all these pieces do end up fitting the puzzle it takes too long to develop them and then display their purpose. Instead of locking these people into the drama in a meaningful way off the bat they all connect close together in a sort of domino effect that suddenly plunges the film into a hyper-drive from the second half through the end.
This film also leaves a lot details out and questions unanswered. It is ultimately hoping for and promising to answer them in a sequel but that’s really putting the cart before the horse. You can’t be so defensive of your story options in a sequel that you do the film at hand a disservice.
How this happens is that only one extra person of the chosen nine is found, Number 6, Numbers 5 and 7 thru 9 are a mystery. Sam who ends up being integral as his life has been directly affected by Mongadorians gets no closure and moves on with the tale into a supposed sequel. Sam’s character also illustrates another issue with this film in as much as he ends up being the most real, identifiable and well played character. This is great for Callan McAuliffe who gets a chance to prove himself in a bigger profile film than he did in last year’s Flipped, for the film, however, it’s kind of an issue when your male and female lead just look the part, say their lines, hit their marks and not much else is added to the equation through them.
Then, of course, this film also suffers from a mild case of Random Animal Syndrome. As the name suggests its where random animals make too big an impact on a film. First, there’s a gecko trailing John and Henri. We are left to surmise it becomes a dog. A dog who is not a dog rather because it’s rather easy to see early on that it’s a bit too smart and good at navigation to be a regular dog. Then we see what the dog becomes late for an awesome beast showdown, which I’ll admit is kind of cool and the CG is well done but it is slightly SyFy movie like.
There’s also a lot of information withheld not only from our protagonist but also from the audience. We already know this is a Chosen One(s) plot but what we need are the rules and a reason to root for this chosen entity. For any of these plots to work like they do in Star Wars or Harry Potter there needs to be some grounding. Some very strong attachment we can build with the protagonist so we can be truly invested in his/her plight. That doesn’t really exist here at least not in this incarnation of the tale.
I absolutely despise when reviewers get cutesy, so in closing, I just want to state for the record that I am not giving I am Number Four a four for that reason. As my rating scale indicates a score of 4/10 is “A film with a few mistakes too big to overlook.” There are definitely things to like about the film but there are too many things that stop it from getting going and leave you scratching your head. If you walked in halfway through the film you might love it until you saw the excruciatingly slow and un-illuminating first half.