Based on a teen novel written by Jobie Hughes and Oprah’s least favourite writer James Frey, “I Am Number Four” is a stealthy mix of “Superman” and “Twilight” with a hint of “X-Files.”
Brit-it-boy Alex Pettyfer is Number Four, an Earth-bound alien who fled his home planet of Lorien along with nine other ET children. They are the last of their kind, but are hunted by the Mogadorians, a gang of marauding aliens who, after destroying Lorien, now have their sights set on Earth. Just as Four begins to develop his powers—think Superman—he falls for a human girl, Sarah Hart (“Glee’s” Dianna Agron), and finds himself battling the Mogadorians not only for the survival of his kind but the human race as well.
“I Am Number Four” is a fresh story that feels like an echo of other teen stories. From “Superman” it takes the idea of an exile from a dying planet sent to Earth to live in disguise among humans. Where Clark Kent could leap over buildings with a single bound and see through walls, Four has a kind of fluorescent stigmata, powerful beams of light that shoot from his palms.
From “Twilight” it borrows the high school romance angle, complete with rivalries, but this time it’s a girl with a Scar Jo vibe and a bullying quarterback instead of an angst ridden brunette and a lovelorn werewolf.
From the “X-Files” it takes the murky atmosphere and a couple of conspiracy nuts.
The only thing missing is a lightning bolt shaped scar on Four’s forehead to make the teen homage complete.
Having said all that, despite feeling like a pastiche, “I Am Number Four” is rather enjoyable.
Director DJ Caruso gives the story and characters time to grow and develop their prerequisite outsider credibility—a crucial element in teen entertainment these days—and blends in more wild action than, say, “Twilight.”
It still feels calculated but by the time we get to the chaotic conclusion—complete with flying fanged creatures that look like the offspring of Godzilla and Mothra—and the inevitable sequel set-up, “I Am Number Four” has established itself up as something, if not completely original, at least entertaining.
Film studio executives are always on the look out for properties that can be spun into profitable movie franchises.
And for good reason.
Following an interesting set of characters over the course of multiple movies can be a cash cow. The James Bond movies have earned over 6 billion dollars, while Harry, Ron and Hermione have raked in almost 8 billion since their series debut in 2001.
This weekend producers are hoping to kick off the Beautiful Creatures franchise. The supernatural romance has Twilightish overtones, a cast that mixes news stars like Emmy Rossum with established faces like Viola Davis and Emma Thompson and the kind of tale of good versus evil that propelled Harry Potter to the upper echelons of the box office.
But not all movies catch on with audiences in the way that the super spy and wizard have.
Recently I Am Number Four, starring Alex Pettyfer and Glee’s Dianna Agron fizzled. Rotten Tomatoes said, “familiar plot and unconvincing performances add up to one noisy, derivative, and ultimately forgettable sci-fi thriller.” Not really the stuff of ongoing franchises.
The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension, a 1984 film starring future RoboCop actor Peter Weller and John Lithgow, was so convinced of its sequel potential they announced the next movie in the closing credits. It’s a wild ride, but poor box office killed any chance of the proposed Buckaroo Banzai Against the World Crime League hitting screens. Star Weller says he’d still suit up, if anyone asked. “I’d certainly do it if it all came together,” he says. “I don’t understand the movie myself, but people love it.”
With sales of over 60 million copies the book series Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events seemed to have natural franchise possibilities. With thirteen books in the collection—a “tridecalogy” author Daniel Handler called it—there’s source material galore, but even though the Jim Carrey movie did well no sequels emerged.
To skirt around the problem of having child lead actors whose looks change as they grow up, there has been talk of producing a stop motion animated sequel. “In an odd way,” said director Brad Silberling, “the best thing you could do is actually have Lemony Snicket say to the audience, ‘Okay, we pawned the first film off as a mere dramatization with actors. Now I’m afraid I’m going to have to show you the real thing.'”