February 19th, 2011 by Bruce Edwards
I have an advantage over reviewers who may feel obliged to pan this movie. I am not a teenager in love, neither have I read any of the Twilight books, nor do I watch Glee. I willingly bought tickets, albeit at matinee prices, to this movie because of two factors: (1) it features Timothy Olyphant, who consistently turns in performances that rise above the material he is given (The Crazies, Justified, Hit Man, Live Free or Die Hard, Deadwood) and (2) it is directed by D. J. Caruso, who directed one of my favorite movies, The Salton Sea. They do not disappoint.
Three-fourths of this movie is as interesting and exciting as a science-fiction yarn can get it, even though it covers some well-tred ground; the last fourth, which sets up a franchise to be continued if box office warrants, speeds up and slows down in the wrong places, but still manages a presentable anti-climax as its climax, and doesn’t overthrow the good feelings that the first 75 minutes engender. It is worth your afternoon.
The mean Mogadorians have destroyed the planet Lorien, whose peaceful race is now reduced to nine expatriate children with special powers, and their mentor-warriors who’ve accompanied them to Earth. Three of them have been found and killed by movie’s start, eliminated lest they grow to their adulthood with the great powers they possess and seek revenge. Olyphant plays Henri, Number Four (Alex Pettyfer)’s “Keeper,” a father-figure who has journeyed to Earth to train and protect him for the battles ahead. They are nomads, moving from town to town, region to region, as they must—to stay ahead of their pursuers, since they intend the same Fate for Earth.
Sidebar: the screenwriter (or one of the duo of original source material creators–the pseudonym, “Pittacus Lore”) must have lived some time in NE Ohio, since he sets it in the mythical “Paradise, Ohio,” whose space villains are known as Mogadorians (Mogadore being a remote suburb of Akron, OH) and spotlights early a poster of Bernie Kosar that adorns the house where the hero resides, prompting him to name his pet hound eponymously. Paradise is an idealized midwestern town that has its requisite football bullies, magical sunrises, stupid sheriffs—and, of course, darker secrets. It’s an idyllic enough small town that it is full of old-fashioned neighborhoods through which you can walk your girlfriend home, and even sports a “Spring Festival” whose Haunted Hay Ride helps foreshadow the menace of an invading alien force that has taken advantage of local “they-walk-among-us” bloggers to help them locate the interplanetary castaways they’ve come to kill.
it’s the rising character development and emerging setting of the first hour that are the most fun to watch; known now as “John Smith,” Number Four is just on the verge of understanding his powers, and we are allowed to see him harness these, clumsily, one by one, the most evident being telekinesis, the ability to move objects with his mind. Along the way, he picks up a sidekick who believes his father has been abducted by aliens (he has), and a human love he hopes will last a lifetime (she will). With the evil aliens hightailing it to Ohio after being tipped off by the local X-files crew who think (wrongly) that the aliens will treat them benevolently if they collaborate, John finally takes on the school bully who happens to be his newfound love’s former boyfriend, stopping just short of breaking this pompous quarterback’s arm.
From here the movie takes on some of the inevitability that plagues all s/f films, but it’s interrupted, nevertheless, by a few surprises. By then, my favorite part of the movie has already happened, the scene in which Henri instructs John that “We (Loriens) are not like humans; we take one love for a lifetime; if she is yours, then hold onto her as tightly as you can.”
True love waits, and endures. If only every movie had at least this theme, however subtle or overt, wouldn’t it be lovely? I Am Number Four has more than this, but even this, this is enough, the promise of “Ever,” between two lovers, to leave the theatre thinking your time well spent.
P.S. Best news of the day: That Timothy Olyphant may be taking the Lone Ranger lead opposite Johnny Depp’s Tonto in Gabe Verbinski’s Disney production.
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