Today I’m going to be reviewing I Am Number Four.
You might be wondering whether I’ll be reviewing the book or the movie, but does it matter? They are virtually same.
Scratch that. They are exactly the same.
I’m not sure why James Frey decided to excavate Flatland from historical and science-fictional obscurity (outside of those few math-head diehards who like letters mixed with their numbers), but the end result is about as exciting as an algebra problem. Granted, an algebra problem you’re forced to complete while skydiving in order to unlock your parachute. Frankly, if given a choice between watching this film or solving said algebra problem to save my life, I’d throw the paper to the wind and enjoy my ride to the ground.
In case you don’t know the plot, here it is:
Number Four is a square. And I don’t mean unhip or uncultured or someone who doesn’t smoke pot. He is all of these things, but he is also, specifically, a mathematical abstraction that can only really exist in two dimensions. He is a four-sided shape, completely without depth.
(Sidenote: For the movie, I thought they’d give in and make Number Four a cube since it’s harder to display “squareness” onscreen in a three-dimensional space. But, I have to give them credit, they stuck to their guns and the author(s) original intentions and kept Number Four a square. Sure, this strains credulity in some situations – especially the love interest with Kelly. It’s hard to imagine how that “relationship” would work physically, a point that’s easily obscured in the novel to focus on the action and the many philosophical concerns. In the movie, the disparity between Number Four and Kelly is impossible to avoid, especially when they kiss.)
I don’t want to ruin the movie for you, though I’m sure that you’ve read the book and if you’ve read the book then you’ve, essentially, seen the movie. The joy that comes from watching the movie – what joy there is – is inherent in seeing the physicalization of Number Four’s abilities. For example, although we understand that Number Four can become effectively invisible by turning his side to someone, that isn’t the same as watching Number Four disappear from view on the big screen.
Granted, as with the relationship issues, seeing such abilities made real in a visual sense often raises more questions than it answers. Yes, Number Four can’t be seen from the side because he has no depth, his invisibility is limited to those who are directly side-on to him. Anyone slightly off true will begin to see Number Four as a column or a vertical rectangle and while they may not immediately recognize Number Four as himself rather than one of his cousins, they will be suspicious.
But these are all issues with the world that James Frey has created. What about the plot?
Ah… well, yes, there is one. Never you fear, Number Four has a goal, has a clear antagonist, and comes across a plethora of obstacles. Even ignoring the shoe-horned in love triangle (Truly, did we need to see Number Three?), the plot is a by-the-numbers affair that’s not likely to excite anyone.
The long and short of it is this: A man who hates math – his lack of skill in the subject destroyed his dreams of being a forensic accountant – decides to kill off all the various shapes. Number Four finds the corpse of Number One by accident (Number One has been missing for years and, as a point, has a low profile) and realizes that his death was no accident. The police refuse to get involved. Claims of shapeism are leveled by the press, but the only result is that the killer becomes aware of Number Four and starts to track him down.
This plot is pedestrian except for the shape angle and, bluntly, that is not enough. The book received a pass from me because the story on the page already existed in the realm of abstraction, but the film tries to make that abstraction physical and, while commendable, the end result is a mess.
Final Verdict: I Am Number Four is a straight line from here to suck.