Sunday, February 20, 2011

HE SAID/SHE SAID: I Am Number Four

Wow! My hands come with the flashlight app! 

Timing in Hollywood just makes me laugh sometimes. Earlier this week, entertainment writer Mark Harris published a dissection of Hollywood malaise called The Day the Movies Died.

Only a day or so after Harris' essay ran, Hollywood released I Am Number Four, which turns out to be an excellent audio/visual companion to Harris' piece. You want to know why Hollywood is in trouble? Because it keeps making movies as soulless and mechanical as this one.

When one sees the words "Produced by Michael Bay." one must take the movie with a bit more than a grain of salt.I tried to take it with at least a couple of salt shakers, because the movie had potential - but it failed to live up to it.

I wish I could have seen the movie my colleague Hannah Poturalski was watching. She writes:

D.J. Caruso’s I Am Number Four was entertaining and action packed, but still romantic and thoughtful — you know, in a manly sort of way. Admittedly, I didn’t recognize the director’s name but after looking him up I realized he’s made a number of films I’ve liked — Disturbia (note: Rear Window was so good), Taking Lives, The Salton Sea.

I don't so much lay the blame at Bay's galumphing feet. He didn't direct the movie, Caruso did. And Caruso is a pretty decent action director. Unlike Mr. Bay, he knows how to shoot and edit an action scene so that a viewer can tell what in the world is going on. Caruso's problem is, he hasn't gotten a hold of a decent script lately.

Disturbia was fun, but that was a great movie only to people who had never seen Rear Window. Eagle Eye had some strong action scenes and an imaginative premise - which made less and less sense as it went on.
With I Am Number Four, history repeats itself in short order.

It starts with a fair amount of intrigue. Alex Pettyfer plays the title character, an alien teenager who travels with his guardian Henri (Timothy Olyphant). They're on the run from a batch of nasty aliens who have no hair, but a lot of really gnarly teeth. Living on Earth is difficult for Number Four (who goes by the name John Smith) because he's a showboat who has super powers. And, as is always the case in such stories, a girl (Dianna Agron, AKA Quinn of Glee) by being so darn pretty and lovable. (Added bonus for locals - it's set in a place called Paradise, Ohio, and Agron actually mentions Dayton. She must have a thing for scripts set in Ohio, since Glee is too.)

Yes, the story is about as dopey as the seventh dwarf, but for the first hour or so, it's actually fairly compelling.  The story focuses on the characters, and the lead actors are all solid. Then, it devolves into an elaborate demo reel for visual effects artists and sound editors.

For Hannah, that worked. She said:

Suspense built up pretty well throughout the film. As well the film’s imagery during the action (scenes) was good — I mainly liked seeing the big beasts fight each other.

She also found merit in the film's characters, noting,

As well, the relationship between Henri and John was a thoughtful one because they were like father and son. Henri was very protective of John and made the ultimate sacrifice. Even the friendships that develop between John and the geeky Sam (Callan McAuliffe) and bully Mark (Jake Abel) were enjoyable to watch on-screen. Pretty much all the relationships had relatable moments that made them more sincere.

Eventually, my mind got bored enough that I started asking questions. For example, Henri goes to pains to delete every digital photo of John on the net, replacing them with a handy-dandy "photo not on server" logo. Um ... maybe I'm being too logical here, but if EVERY photo of you disappears from a Facebook album, wouldn't that actually draw MORE attention to you?

The character of Number 6 (Teresa Palamer) is so thinly written, she might as well be called "Hot Chick Who Kicks Ass in the Last Reels." And I could see the final "twist" of the big battle scene coming about three country miles away.

At the very least, I had hoped I Am Number Four would be turn-your-brain-off fun, but it asked me to suspend so much disbelief that my disbelief got too heavy and crashed to the ground. I Am Number Four won't  kill the movies, but it will sure keep them on life support.


Read Hannah's full review here.

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