Hola all. Massawyrm here.
A product of James (A MILLION LITTLE PIECES) Frey’s controversial and exploitive fiction factory Full Fathom Five, I AM NUMBER FOUR takes everything you hate about the Hollywood movie-by-committee system and applies it directly to its source material as well. Everything about it is hollow, artificial and uninspired. And in order to wrap your mind around what exactly went wrong here, you have to know how it was created. After his famous public meltdown in the face of his releasing a fictional memoir - that was both pimped and summarily executed by Oprah Winfrey – Frey set out to use the connections and inroads he’d gained over the years to create a company dedicated towards creating Twilight-flavored Young Adult novels, designed specifically for sale to Hollywood studios. The idea was not to create indelible classics or feature the work of young talented writers – it was to create prepackaged properties designed to be released as a book first and a movie second, with the movie following on its heels by only a few months.
The contracts for the young writers cranking these novels out are embarrassingly draconian, paying a scant $250 advance to write a full length novel with all rights to the property owned by Frey and Full Fathom Five. Needless to say, the revelation of these details caused a stir of its own, with folks arguing on both sides about the ethics of unknown writers getting what could be their big break via a contractual buttfucking.
Why is any of this relevant? Because I AM NUMBER FOUR was not the product of someone’s fevered imagination and desire to tell a great science fiction story. It was written because James Frey felt that the current supernatural craze was coming to an end and that the next logical fad would be aliens. So he wanted someone to write him an alien story. Thus he hired a kid fresh out of college, eager to use his MFA in creative writing, and tasked him to create a science fiction story based upon a few ideas he cooked up.
Unfortunately for us, not a single one of those ideas was in any way original. I AM NUMBER FOUR borrows endlessly from the conventions of science fiction without giving anything at all back. It is a classic Superman, last-of-their-kind, gifted-with-powers-humans-could-never-dream-of fairy tale, laid over the monomyth and left to rot with nothing to do or say. Making matters worse, Frey is aiming at the TWILIGHT audience and is thus borrowing heavily from the Stephanie Meyer playbook without seeming to understand what makes her books popular, which here is akin to asking a college student to watch videos of the monkeys accidently writing Shakespeare and demanding that he duplicate their winning formula. The story, understandably, fails to hit anywhere near the mark, entirely flubbing the few elements that made TWILIGHT the sugar-coated guilty pleasure success that it is.
Everything here not only feels as if it has been done before, it feels as if it has been done to death before. There isn’t even a shred of a new idea here. It is rehashed, regurgitated, boilerplate bullshit. There is dialog and exposition in here so corny, even the free movie audience I saw it with laughed out loud at it. And the internal logic is so borked that it only makes sense to someone who is simultaneously huffing paint while watching. So what’s keeping it from being fall out of your chair funny?
D.J. Caruso. Somewhere along the line Michael Bay and Steven Spielberg thought this novel-by-committee project was worth sinking some time and money into – so they lined up Spielberg’s favored go to guy and gave him a respectable budget to try to make something out of it. Caruso, a competent director with an admittedly questionable taste in material, was smart enough to bring on underrated veteran Timothy Olyphant to deliver all of the most embarrassing exposition. Olyphant’s ability to keep a straight face while uttering lines like “On our planet, when we fall in love, it is only with one person, ever,” is positively herculean.
The one thing going its way is that despite drowning in its own clichés, Caruso manages to eek out a pretty bad ass little climax. Sure, there isn’t an ounce of emotional attachment to a single fucking thing going on, but once giant monsters start tearing each other apart and super powered alien teenagers start doing battle with a seemingly endless supply of raygun wielding bad guys, the movie lets you forget about its general lousiness for a few minutes and finally gets around to entertaining you. It doesn’t last long, but what’s there is fairly solid.
Of course, then the movie becomes crippled by its own design. I AM NUMBER FOUR is slated as the first in a proposed 6 part series, which means, as you probably have already guessed, that the movie suffers from an unsatisfying conclusion requiring you to follow the further adventures in subsequent novels and (possibly) films. Of course, it would be much harder on the audience if they actually gave a shit about who the remaining aliens were and what their ultimate purpose was, but mercifully they won’t. People who have witnessed similar endings in films like JUMPER and PUSH will find themselves in familiar waters here. It’s the same kind of hopeful moviemaking that only works in hindsight, after a series has a number of hit films under its belt. And it certainly doesn’t work here.
Anyone younger than a teenager will probably have some fun with this, though anyone else is likely to feel dumber having watched it. Fiction should never be farmed out in order to anticipate trends, and films should never be made out of said fiction before it has even had a chance to become market proven. This is an experiment doomed to produce nothing but dogshit. And the proof is I AM NUMBER FOUR.
Until next time friends,