Michael Bay was originally going to direct I Am Number Four, but he passed, and the job went to D.J. Caruso. Good thing, too, because in Bay’s hands this sci-fi action flick would probably have been a bombastic mess, whereas the director of Disturbia and Eagle Eye makes it into a thoroughly entertaining mix of pretty-teen angst, flashy effects and energetic stunt work.
Based on the first book in a potential six-book series, it centers on an alien teen (Alex Pettyfer) who, along with eight others, was sent to Earth as a child to escape a hostile invading race. When said race discovers where the kids are and starts eliminating them, the boy and his warrior-guardian (Timothy Olyphant) move from town to town in an effort to evade them. As if that’s not bad enough, Pettyfer starts developing inherited alien abilities, including telekinesis and super strength.
Caruso, who’s fast become one of my favorite directors of thrillers, once again displays a refreshing knack for shooting and editing action clearly. This makes for genuinely thrilling set pieces, from the various third-act battles between good and bad aliens inside a high school, to the fantastic football-field finale, a special-effects spectacle full of alien gunfire, giant alien creatures and a rather spectacular explosion. Especially cool is the way Pettyfer runs while deflecting volleys of said gunfire.
As well the script, written by Smallville creators Alfred Gough and Miles Millar, does a decent job playing with our expectations as to who, or what, is good or bad. The Pettyfer-hunting aliens (led by Lost alum Kevin Durand) are obviously bad, what with their freakish heights and nasty sharp teeth. But we’re not so sure about the blonde hottie (Teresa Palmer) on the motorcycle, nor the shape-shifting creature who latches on to Pettyfer in the form of a Beagle.
And yet the film is more than just a load of eye candy. It has some actual emotional heft. The characters and relationships all feel believable, at least for a movie about teen aliens. Pettyfer’s romance with a cute-girl photographer (Glee’s Dianna Agron) is especially well-handled, and also allows us to see, via a scene with the girl’s family at dinner, his character’s longing for a normal life.
Pettyfer is mainly called upon to be photogenic, be it while brooding, smiling, fighting, crying or waterskiing. Better is Olyphant, who brings a nice mix of sternness and compassion to his protector part. Best, I think, is Callan McAuliffe (Flipped) as a bullied teen Pettyfer befriends. He does a beautiful job conveying his character’s loneliness and frustration. In perhaps the film’s best scene, he pleads with Pettyfer to confirm his suspicions about Pettyfer’s true nature.
My only quibble is the emo tunes on the soundtrack, an inevitable thing considering the demographic to whom the film is meant to appeal (though I did appreciate hearing Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep” over the scene of Palmer strutting away from an exploding building). On a related note, I very much liked the score by Trevor Rabin. It enhances the action, brings the tears and, much like Caruso’s straightforward direction, never gets in the way. – [DVD] [Blu-Ray]
DVD Release Date 5/24/11