An alien from another world who possesses special powers but who is also a teen boy who wants to date Quinn from Glee angsts his way through I Am Number Four, a naked attempt at capturing some of that Twilight success.
John (Alex Pettyfer) just wants to be a regular teenager , hanging out with other dudes from his high school, trying to pick up hotties at the local beach. But this kind of Abercrombie normality is not possible for him. Because “John,” not his real name, is one of nine, special-power-having teenage refugees from an alien world. And some tattooed, rejected Deep Space Nine characters called the Mogadorians are now hunting them, in order (what order? why? whatever! says the movie). As the trailers say, the first three are dead, John is number four.
John must therefore live a vagabond existence — moving any time his identity is watcher person, Henri (Timothy Olyphant), thinks they’ve become too conspicuous. They move to Paradise, Ohio, after John has a glowy-legs incident in front of some friends (parts of him glow from time to time). In Paradise, John enrolls in yet another high school and quickly befriends Sarah (Dianna Agron), a formerly popular girl who is now all into photography. This earns him the quick hatred of Mark (Jake Abel), Sarah’s former boyfriend and the school bully. John also befriends Sam (Callan McAuliffe), one of Mark’s frequent targets and a kid whose dad disappeared hunting aliens.
All this 90201ery takes a back seat as the Mogadorians appear to be getting closer to finding John. And it turns out they aren’t the only ones looking for him. So is a blonde badass we soon learn is Number Six (Teresa Palmer).
Who remembers Roswell? This early ’00s TV show featured the discount-bin James-Dean-ness of Brendan Fehr (who went on to work on some CSIs), the comical “acting” of Shiri Appleby (recently on The CW’s cancelled Life Unexpected) and Jason Behr (who hasn’t been in much of anything), a very young Colin Hanks, a pre-Lost Emilie de Ravin and, most entertainingly, a young, sour-faced Katherine Heigl. Roswell, which aired first on The WB and then on UPN, wasn’t a good show, but was a watchable bit of cheesefood about three teens from an alien world (where they were royalty!) and their human buddies at Roswell High School. That show, which was honestly more fun to read the recaps of than necessarily watch, was actually better — more emotionally resonant, more interestingly plotted, more believably written, even better acted — than the weak sauce that is I Am Number Four. That’s right — a The WB TV show where Katherine Heigl played a pouty alien princess was a better piece of art than this movie. I say this as someone who willingly — nay, eagerly — watched New Moon on cable. A couple of times.
I Am Number Four feels like the generic version of the toy you really want — whether that toy is the movie adaptation of Hunger Games or the next installment of the Twilight Saga or just some good teen angst. Everything about it has been done, better, somewhere else. Done many somewhere elses, in most cases. Dianna Argon’s part is almost exactly the ostracized popular girl she was in the first season of Glee. The alien stuff comes from Roswell with healthy doses of those downmarket live-action Disney movies circa Escape to Witch Mountain. The people chasing our main characters? Twilight but also every season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (which also had that secret-power-secret-identity formula and the adult watcher). Alex Pettyfer’s hair? Liked it better on early-aughts Justin Timberlake.
I Am Number Four is stupid — which was a given — but it is also disrespectful to its audience. It doesn’t acknowledge that the only people interested in this movie will be bored by the repetition of the themes of this movie. It doesn’t attempt to do anything new with its characters or story or mythology or even to have any fun with the way it presents them.
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action and for language. Directed by D.J. Caruso and written by Alfred Gough, Miles Millar and Marti Noxon (from the novel by “Pittacus Lore,” a.k.a. Jobie Hughes and James Frey), I Am Number Four is an hour and 44 minutes long and distributed by DreamWorks Studios.