Maybe it’s just stuck in my head since I recently wrote about it in For Your Consideration, but watching I Am Number Four the other day made me think of a line from Sports Night. One of the show’s characters, Jeremy, has secretly been dating a porn star. His ex-girlfriend, Natalie, thinks his date is something entirely different and that he’s only seeing her because she’s “good for the boy in him.” Tired of having to hide that he’s dating a porn star, Jeremy finally silences nagging Natalie with the line “I date a porn star, for both the boy in me and the man in me.”
That’s exactly how I feel about I Am Number Four. The Michael Bay-produced, DJ Caruso-directed flick about a fugitive teenage alien trying to live a normal life as a high schooler, is purely for the 12-year-old in me. It’s full of genre tropes that we’ve all already seen in TV shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Smallville (no surprise there considering the screenplay was written by veterans from both TV shows) — tropes that are just as mind-numbingly familiar for an adult. But for the boy in me, the youngster who remembers how cool it was to discover a new book or TV show about an outcast kid with superpowers, I’m willing to give its barebones script a pass.
There’s no pass needed when it comes to what I Am Number Four delivers for the man in me: a full-blown Baygasm climax. Sure, DJ Caruso sat in the director’s chair on this one, but the last twenty-odd minutes, which involve a rumble between the rival alien species that tears down the walls of a high school, scream Michael Bay. It’s a frantic yet coherent battle filled with both practical and CGI effects that just gets bigger and bigger as it goes along. It’s easily the highlight of the movie and yet another reason I’m happy to give it up to Michael Bay, a man who too many film geeks love to hate.
All this has me wondering why people have made a sport out of turning Bay into a punching bag. Yeah, I hated Transformers 2 just as much as the next guy, but no one has a perfect track record in Hollywood. Even with that stinker on his plate, there’s still no one else in the industry that makes movies like Bay does. He is the epitome of the “Go big or go home” mentality. There’s never, ever anything small about a movie with his name on it, and if his name is on the project as a director, you can bet good money that it’s going to be one of the best-looking movies of the summer. I know the comparison will most likely earn me some flak, but the only other person making action blockbusters these days who has a similarly consistent appreciation for scope and bombast is Christopher Nolan.
A lot of people complain that Michael Bay just makes glorified car commercials; that he’s nothing but cameras swooping around products and low-angle shots of beautiful people standing stalwart against whatever threat they face, be it asteroid, robots from space or Latin drug dealers. But that’s not the case at all. It’s not that Michael Bay makes commercials, it’s that commercials want to be Michael Bay. (Yes, I realize that he shoots Victoria’s Secret commercials, but those are shot like his movies, so it’s a whole chicken-and-egg scenario.) The man might as well own a patent on how to make things as larger-than-life sexy as possible on screen, be they a sports car or Shia LaBeouf.
What I love most about Michael Bay is his ability to influence. People want to complain that he’s what’s wrong with the art of film, but what they’re not realizing is that he does what so few other filmmakers these days do: command your attention. Sure, his art is in no way, shape or form powerful or moving, but Goddamn, is it awesome to behold. A movie with Bay’s name on it — even a movie as derivative as I Am Number Four — is going to be loud; it’s going to grab you by the eyes and ears and yell, “I AM MICHAEL BAY, TAKE IT!” You just don’t get that swagger from anyone else in Hollywood.