Title: I Am Number Four
Year: 2011
Genre: Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi
Play time: 
Director: D.J. Caruso
Screenwriters: Alfred Gough, Miles Millar
Starring: Alex Pettyfer, Timothy Olyphant, Dianna Agron

I Am Number Four is nominally about a malevolent alien race threatening the continued existence of Earth, and a different alien race that holds the key to stopping them. But take a random 15-minute stretch of this trivial, all-things-to-all-people teen sci-fi soap, and you may well not know that anything nearly so fantastic is involved. A cynical attempt to replicate the recent successes enjoyed by this sort of supernatural, hormone-filled YA fantasy, the film — based on a planned franchise of books by James Frye (yes, that one) and his writing partner — is cobbled together from ill-fitting spare parts, connected by a gossamer-thin mythology.

As a finishing touch to the project’s vacant gloss, the filmmakers hired chiseled non-actor Alex Pettyfer to play the lead — an uncannily humanoid alien sent to Earth (we are told in endless expository voiceover) after the destruction of his home planet, hunted by a different set of aliens who are, for some reason, eliminating the protagonist’s fellow refugees in strict order. Our hero — we’ll call him John, since that’s what he calls himself — is Number Four on their list. After receiving word that Number Three is history, John moves to a new town and, against the wishes of his alien protector (Timothy Olyphant), enrolls in the local high school. There, he teams up with the resident science nerd (Callan McAuliffe), tangles with the jocks, and falls in love with a human hottie (Dianna Agron). All the whole, the evil aliens are supposedly hot on his trail.

There’s a lot jockeying for your attention here, none of it remotely compelling. Most obviously, the sci-fi stuff is egregious bunk, an arbitrary concoction of stock elements someone took three minutes to jot down on a bar napkin. We learn nothing about these “aliens.” The good guys, we are told, have some kind of supernatural powers, called “legacies,” which edge toward or away from omnipotence at the convenience of the script. The bad guys wear Star Trek make-up and are bad — that’s all we know. There’s a shape-shifting alien dog, because why not. Later on there are some magic rocks, which I literally have no idea what they do.

The high school drama is dopey beyond measure. Everyone on down the social hierarchy is impossibly attractive. Events unfold the way we’ve learned to expect, but for no real reason. The bullies seem like the theoretical conceptions of someone who’s never been to high school; one of them, hilariously, only seems capable of talking about football. Their seething hatred of John and his nerdy friend is totally unmotivated. Of course, the lead jock is the love interest’s ex-boyfriend, which gives us another reason to hate him, but serves no other purpose. The romance is so tepid it’s barely there; two good-looking kids staring at each other with nothing behind their eyes.

When the movie finally gets around to it, director D.J. Caruso, who made the terrific Disturbia and the middling Eagle Eye, gives the heavily CGI-augmented action some rhythm and energy. But seriously, who gives a shit? By that point, it is abundantly clear that nothing interesting is forthcoming. I Am Number Four is product in the worst sense: soulless and mathematically calculated for the broadest, shallowest appeal.

If there’s a bright spot here, it’s Flipped‘s Callan McAuliffe as the scrawny kid with a secret. Sharp and funny, he’s the only part of I Am Number Four that doesn’t feel machine-tooled.


Seeking in movies meaning and reflection in real-time. On the look out for biography, thriller & drama best pieces.

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