Friday 17 November 2017

Movies: I am Number Four ***

(12A, general release)

There's a fine line between storytelling and spoofing, and James Frey is a perfect case in point. Five years ago, Frey was exposed on the Oprah Winfrey Show for having made up large parts of his bestselling addiction memoir, A Million Little Lies.

It then emerged that he had indeed altered the odd little fact -- he spent five hours in police custody, for instance, as opposed to 87 days in jail -- and the law suits flew thick and fast. But Frey has since reinvented himself, and was actually the co-author (under an assumed name) of the bestselling teen novel on which this film is based.

And while an initial summary might make the plot of I am Number Four sound convoluted and unoriginal, it forms the basis of a surprisingly competent and entertaining action fantasy that even has the moxie to advertise a possible sequel before its end. Directed by DJ Caruso, the film stars English actor Alex Pettyfer as John, a rather aloof teenager who has spent most of his life moving from town to town with his guardian, Henri (Timothy Olyphant). Every time John begins to settle in a community and establish himself at school, Henri gets spooked and announces they have to move.

But there's a reason for this: John is really one of nine aliens who were brought to our world as infants after their home planet of Lorien was attacked and destroyed by an ultra-violent species called the Mogodorians. The Mogodorians have followed the Loriens to Earth, and are determined to wipe the nine out before they become powerful enough to challenge them. John is 'Number Four', and when he and Henri find out that Number Three has been killed, it's time to move homes again.

They settle on Paradise, Ohio, an ironically named two-horse rural town where Henri hopes they'll go unnoticed. But when John enrolls at the local high school he quickly attracts the wrong kind of attention.

As the Loriens reach adulthood latent superpowers develop, and John's have arrived at the worst possible time. As he becomes friendly with a beautiful, bookish girl called Sarah (played by Dianna Agron of Glee fame), he falls foul of her football-playing ex-boyfriend, who's the school thug. And John's subsequent behaviour makes another student called Sam (Callan McAuliffe) suspect he may not be an ordinary boy at all.

Sam's father was obsessed with extraterrestrials, and disappeared while on a trip to South America. Sam has always believed his dad was abducted by aliens, and he persuades John to help him find him. But, meanwhile, the Mogodorians are drawing ever closer, and have now decided to subjugate the Earth as well.

With its high-school setting and moody, suprahuman protagonist, I am Number Four draws obvious comparisons with the Twilight films. It borrows many of the Twilight tricks, from beautiful and gloomily lit principals to a mournful pop soundtrack, but in fairness it also coins a few new ones of its own. The Buffy-esque Mogodorians are striking-looking villains, giant Goths with the kind of teeth you could open a tin with. There are some nicely judged CGI effects too, culminating in a spectacular battle.

Though he makes his exit midway through, Olyphant provides a touch of dramatic gravitas as John's thoroughly pessimistic mentor. Pettyfer, a former model from Stevenage with little acting experience, does quite well as John, and will no doubt earn himself a fiercely loyal female teenage following. And Australian actress Teresa Palmer brings exotic glamour to the proceedings as an avenging warrior alien.

I am Number Four has some nice twists, a strong story and a winning sense of humour. And while its concept may not be the most original, it's enjoyable enough to suggest it might be the beginning of a modestly successful franchise -- provided, of course, that enough people go to see this one.

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