(Hotel pay-per-view, April 2011) Most movies are at least as much commerce than art, but for some films, the balance is so obviously tilted toward making money that it becomes difficult to see it as anything but a cynical cash-grab. It’s impossible to watch I Am Number Four without being reminded that studios are still trying to mine popular teen/children’s series for a Twilight/Harry-Potter-like franchise. (Count the failures that have not been followed by sequels: Eragon, Spiderwick Chronicles, Golden Compass, Lemony Snickett, Percy Jackson, etc…) This case is even worse given how the film comes from a first volume in a book series cynically designed by James Frey’s “Full Fathom Five” creative factory as a deliberate attempt to cash in on the young-adult market. It’s easy to see how the franchising mindset affects the product: The sub-literate SF premise of the series is soft fantasy executed through aliens, the writers going through ridiculous lengths to contain their stories within an American high school. Everything is set up to lead to the next instalment, the usual teen-fiction narrative buttons pushed without subtlety along the way. Perhaps the only saving grace of the finished product is that it’s reasonably well-made. Director D.J. Caruso has done some good work before, and if this kind of for-hire work is a step down from clever thrillers like Disturbia and Eagle Eye, he’s able to give enough energy to the film to carry it past the laborious setup and the most predictable plot turns. Only the CGI looks particularly overdone, without physicality or subtlety of movement. As blatantly manipulative as it can be, I Am Number Four has a few good moments, and an antagonist that seems to be played with some self-aware irony –quite a change from the po-faced human characters all trying to be as blandly serious as possible. While I Am Number Four is not particularly good, it’s not terrible either, and if you can ignore the blatant “first in a series” annoyances, it’s an average entry in the teen-fantasy genre. Odds aren’t high that it’ll lead to a franchise, though.