Every once in a while a movie comes along that spawns countless imitators. After Die Hard helped to usher in a new kind of action hero, studios would copy the formula hoping to find similar success. Like a game of Mad Libs, “Die Hard on a _____” was a recurring concept in the early 1990s.
With the success of the Twilight series it was only a matter of time before Hollywood would attempt to branch out and tap into genres that would cater to similar audiences. And with the Bella-Edward-Jacob love triangle nearly complete, it looks like I Am Number Four will attempt to be the new Twilight, but with extraterrestrials, not sparkling vampires, or werewolves for that matter. Sadly, except for a few whiz-bang special effects, the material does little to separate itself from something you can see in the comfort of your own living room on ABC Family or The Disney Channel.
Narrowly escaping his home planet of Lorien for Earth, Number Four (Alex Pettyfer) now hides under an assumed identity from creatures known as the Mogadorians. There are eight others like Number Four, each spread around the globe to make it that much harder for the Mogadorians to find and kill them. Going through adolescence, Four tries to blend in, but there are situations where his popularity is cause of concern for Henri (Timothy Olyphant), the Lorien warrior who is Four’s protector from the evil aliens.
Discovering newfound powers known as “Legacies,” Four and Henri take to hiding in the suburb of Paradise, Ohio. It is there that Four becomes spellbound by teen Sarah (Dianna Agron), fascinated by her photographs and overall kindness. Before they can make it to second base, the Mogadorians spoil the romance, drawing near and ultimately forcing Four, his human friend, Sam (Callan McAuliffe), and Number Six (Teresa Palmer) to fight back.
Published last August, I Am Number Four went on to become a best-selling young adult science fiction novel for author Pittacus Lore (a pen name for writers Jobie Hughes and James Frey). From the way it was plotted it’s easy to see why Hollywood would be interested in bringing it to the big screen. You have the hunky lead as the mysterious outsider who has uncanny extraterrestrial powers to protect him from ritual hazing (no atomic wedges for this guy!). Next, you have this tightly wound backstory involving two alien species with weird names. And of course there’s the romance angle with a pair of Milky Way-crossed lovebirds, one human and another that may or may not list Reese’s Pieces as his candy of choice. Throw in some mini Michael Bay-sized action sequences inside the confines of a high school, some attractive leads and you have a film that’s part Twilight, part Push (the 2009 sci-fi actioner starring Chris Evans and Dakota Fanning).
Too bad I Am Number Four is pretty dull for most of its running time. Here you have a character with limitless powers (his palms can act as flashlights and he can do telekinesis!), yet for being an extraterrestrial, he doesn’t seem from another dimension. He becomes aggressive towards his protector, Henri, thinking he doesn’t need a protector, and he struggles in his love connection with Sarah. As an origin tale, I Am Number Four is a flawed affair. Through Four’s voice-over narration we get an overview of the Loriens and the Mogadorians, but it doesn’t do much since the narration isn’t played over images of the two alien races. We are left to assume that the Mogadorians when they first appear on-screen are the ones who sport facial tattoos and wear black trenchcoats.
From out of the blue it seems that Alex Pettyfer is everywhere. Why the sudden attention? The English actor made his big screen debut in 2006’s Alex Rider: Operation Stormbreaker. The movie bombed horribly and Pettyfer vanished faster than Haley Joel Osment at a Jeff Foxworthy Show reunion. Yet he’s back this year with a vengeance with three movies (I Am Number Four, Beastly, and Now) coming out over the next nine months. And he’s paired with Dianna Agron, who stars on the hit TV series Glee. Seems like she can’t escape high school.
I Am Number Four only partial delivers with the special effects heavy finale. The story is a bore, the villains are a joke, and the writing is more irritating than anything else. Why have an outer-dimensional character with no dimension? I thought to myself. Considering that it ends with a cliffhanger, DreamWorks/Touchstone Pictures must be pretty confident that the teenage audience, a lot of them Twi-hards, will want to bask in glow of Pettyfer’s ultraviolet palms more than once.
Director: D.J. Caruso
Notable Cast: Alex Pettyfer, Timothy Olyphant, Teresa Palmer, Dianna Agron, Callan McAuliffe, Kevin Durand, Jake Abel
Writer(s): Alfred Gough, Miles Millar, and Marti Noxon, based on “I Am Number Four” by Pittacus Lore (Jobie Hughes and James Frey)