You are a mediocre movie ~ That Movie Blogger Fella

Monday, March 7, 2011

You are a mediocre movie

I Am Number Four
My rating:

So here's the what's what: I Am Number Four, the movie, isn't so much based on the book as it is based on a concept that has always been meant to be a book, a movie, a line of merchandise, possibly a TV series, perhaps an album of "songs inspired by" and maybe a franchise of themed fast-food restaurants and anything else that could separate people from their cash. It was authored engendered by James Frey, who wrote a so-called autobiography that was exposed for being entirely fictional, and now spends his time running an outfit called Full Fathom Five. This article is a fascinating look at how it operates, by signing up gullible young writers to contracts that make them write for no credit, swears them to secrecy under pain of legal action, and pays them US$250. Which may mean nothing to you, but to me, it means James Frey is a craven little bastard and this film is only making him richer.

It's... actually not as bad as its provenance might indicate. But that just makes it all the more depressing.

In Florida, he went by the name Daniel. But after moving to the small town of Paradise, Ohio with his Guardian Henri (Timothy Olyphant), he adopts the name John Smith (Alex Pettyfer). John and Henri are aliens from the planet Lorien, which was destroyed by the evil Mogadorians - and John is one of nine whom the Mogadorian Commander (Kevin Durand) is hunting down. The first three have already been killed, and John is Number Four. In Paradise, he falls for Sarah (Dianna Agron), befriends Sam (Callan McAuliffe) and earns the enmity of Sarah's ex-boyfriend Mark (Jake Abel) - and at the same time, his extra-terrestrial superpowers begin to manifest. But the Mogs are hot on his trail - as is a mysterious girl who turns out to be Number Six (Teresa Palmer).

This movie is directed by D.J. Caruso, who made the Shia LaBeouf vehicles Disturbia and Eagle Eye. It was written by Al Gough and Miles Millar of TV's Smallville, and Marti Noxon who worked with Joss Whedon on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It's produced by Michael Bay and Steven Spielberg through DreamWorks Pictures, cost US$50 million, and involved the talents of probably a few hundred Hollywood film crewmembers. It's slick, it's shiny, it's professionally made, and it is completely and entirely soulless. There's not a milligram of real passion and feeling in this film, and every time it attempts it it fails. Everyone, and I mean everyone, involved in this was content to do a minimally competent job and go home with their paycheck.

Take the storyline. Standard-order Campbellian hero's journey-cum teen wish-fulfillment fantasy, with a side order of highschool romance and jocks-vs-geeks drama. But it's all very superficial and perfunctory. The John-Sarah romance, John's longing for a home and family, Sam's longing for his missing father, Henri's mentorship of John (and you probably already know what usually happens to the hero's mentor in this kind of story); none of this evokes any greater emotional reaction than "meh". And I gotta take issue with the movie's sense of pacing. More than once I was wondering why on earth are we spending so much time on this particular scene, or this particular subplot, when supposedly the fate of the world is at stake. It's dull, and quite a long slog at 114 minutes (about 24 minutes too long for this kind of movie).

Even the cast all seem to be sleepwalking. Alex Pettyfer is all gorgeously sculpted cheekbones and nothing else. Dianna Agron is famous for Glee, but I remember her as a queen bee cheerleader in a few episodes of Heroes. She had this outward sweetness that masked the usual bitchy meanness, but here she's just sweet, which makes her so much less interesting. Callan McAuliffe is wooden. Timothy Olyphant is usually a lot of fun to watch, but here he's got nothing to do. Teresa Palmer is pretty awesome as the Number who actually knows how to kick ass with her powers, but that's more credit to the stunt and SFX teams. Oh okay, I suppose Kevin Durand is having fun playing the brutish evil alien.

But the thing is, when a team of consummate professional filmmakers come together, they usually produce something, well, competent. It takes a misguided creative vision to really make something that sucks, and you can bet there was none of that here. Occasionally there's a funny or clever bit in the script. There wasn't too much Marty Stu-izing of John. And the superpowered action scenes (when we fiiinally get to them) provide some thrills, although they're marred by inexplicable shaky-cam. Then again, there are some stupid plot holes that someone who actually cared about this story might've noticed. When these aliens die, they dissolve into dust, and so do their clothes. Are they alien clothes? If the Numbers are stronger when they're together, why split them up in the first place? And if they're always meant to develop superpowers, why doesn't John know about them?

So no, it's not an entirely bad movie. It's just very very apathetic and artificial; it's not a story that aims to edify or enlighten or even just entertain, it's a product calculated to make as much money as possible. Which, regardless of the scant merits of the film itself, is a pretty bad thing. Do you want more movies like this? Do you want more movies made in this assembly-line, trend-forecasting, market-approved, by-the-numbers manner? Read that article on James Frey (here's the link again!) - do you think he deserves to get rich off this kind of thing? I was once forwarded another article on Frey's Full Fathom Five, raving about how innovative its approach was to publishing and how it might be the new business model for entertainment product across all media. To this, I invite you to join me in a hearty and impassioned cry of Do Not Want.

NEXT REVIEW: The Fighter
Expectations: *shrug*