At the Movies: Unknown, I Am Number Four

A reminder that “Cedar Rapids,” which was supposed to open last week, is now opening this week in St. Louis, so if you’ve forgotten what I said about it, feel free to scroll down a bit and reread it.

Unknown

Well, this is going to be a challenge to write about. It’s hard to talk about a mystery without giving away its secrets.

Liam Neeson stars as Martin Harris, an American doctor visiting Germany for a conference. He and wife Elizabeth (January Jones) arrive at the hotel and Martin discovers that he left his briefcase back at the airport. He hops in a cab to head back to the airport, but winds up in a serious accident.

Martin wakes up four days later in a hospital. He’s been in a coma and is having trouble remembering things. He knows who he is, though, and is worried about his wife. Against his doctor’s orders he returns to the hotel only to discover that his wife doesn’t know him and another man has adopted his identity.

With no friends and a mystery man out to kill him, Martin turns to the cabbie who saved him (Diane Kruger) and a private investigator (Bruno Ganz) for help. Martin’s identity theft may be linked to an assassination plot at the conference.

“Unknown” is a fairly effective thriller. Neeson gives a compelling performance as he looks for answers. The problem with movies like this is often when you spend an hour waiting for answers when you get them they’re either a disappointment, don’t make any sense or raise more questions than they answer.

With “Unknown,” the answers make sense for the most part and help to explain things that didn’t add up earlier in the film. (I hate being vague but I also hate giving away major plot points).

The movie does rely heavily on coincidence to move things along, but that’s common for this type of film. There were some unexpected moments, which is always nice in a thriller. Director Jaume Collet-Serra does a decent job capturing the gritty, dirty side of Berlin.

Did it work for me? “Unknown” will no doubt draw comparisons to Neeson’s previous thriller “Taken,” and it’s not as good as that film. It has its flaws but I found it worth my time.

I Am Number Four

Here’s the thing about taking the first book in a series and turning it into a movie: If it’s a hit, you can sit back for the next few years and watch the money roll in while you adapt the rest of the story. See: “Harry Potter” and “Lord of the Rings.”

But sometimes it doesn’t work out that way. See: “The Golden Compass” and “Eragon.”

Which brings us to “I Am Number Four,” based on the first in a proposed series of young adult novels by Pittacus Lore (aka James Frey and Jobie Hughes. Will it be the new “Twilight?”

I’m not a betting man, but if I were, I wouldn’t bet my dad’s farm on it.

Alex Pettyfer stars as John Smith, aka Number Four. He’s the fourth of nine teenage aliens sent to Earth after evil aliens attacked and killed everyone on their home planet. Now the evil aliens are on earth looking for the survivors. They’ve found and eliminated the first three, so now they’re after young Mr. Smith.

By the way, you can tell the good aliens from the evil aliens because the good ones are young, attractive and look like us; the evil ones are ugly, misshapen and have bad teeth.

All the adolescent aliens have an adult watcher, I mean guardian, taking care of them. Given that there are evil aliens always hunting them, John and his guardian Henri (Timothy Olyphant) are always on the run. This nomadic lifestyle wears on John.

After Number Three is killed, Henri takes John to the small town of Paradise. John enrolls in the local high school where he’s befriended by the school nerd (Callan McAuliffe), tormented by the school’s top jock (Jake Abel) and, of course, falls in love with the jock’s ex-girlfriend, former cheerleader Sarah (Dianna Agron).

Further complicating John’s life — he’s developing super powers, like he can turn his hands into flashlights (He has better, cooler powers as well). There’s also a mystery girl (Teresa Palmer) who’s also on John’s trail, but is she friend or foe?

Oh, and there’s something weird about the dog, too.

“I Am Number Four” reminded me of “Eragon,” another fantasy thriller that seemed to have been made by piecing together parts of other, better stories to make something new that really isn’t. Every element of this story you’ve seen in other sci-fi fantasies.

It doesn’t help that it’s also burdened with some pretty bad dialogue. The special effects range from mediocre to OK. The actors aren’t going to win any Academy Awards either, at least not for this movie.

Did it work for me? “I Am Number Four” actually made me yearn for the high-quality teen angst of the “Twilight” series. And you know how I feel about that franchise.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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