For all that I enjoyed I Am Number Four while I was watching it, I'm also confident I'll have forgotten I ever saw it within the year. Absent both the earnest strangeness of the Twilight films and the high-priced bombast of Michael Bay (he's only a producer here), this bit of teen-pandering sci-fi is about as inoffensive and blandly entertaining as director D.J. Caruso's last film Eagle Eye, but cut from an even less original corner of the sci-fi genre. Leads Alex Pettyfer and Dianna Agron are two perfectly attractive young people who look great while running away from evil aliens, but neither they nor Caruso's direction bring enough to the too-familiar story to set it particularly apart.
Pettyfer, a rising star so far in name only-- this is his first star vehicle to see release-- stars as Number Four, an alien escapee from a dying planet who goes by the human alias of John Smith. Escorted by fellow alien handler Henri (Timothy Olyphant) who poses as his father, John is constantly on the run from the evil Mogadorians, the humanoid alien species apparently a few genetic steps removed from Klingons, who are slowly hunting down the other refugees like John and killing them. When Number Three is killed-- an event John is aware of thanks to a glowing body mark that's never properly explained-- he and Henri move on from Key West to small-town Ohio, where John must pose as an average high school kid while Henri figures out the next step.
After kicking off with two separate alien attack events (one in flashback), I Am Number Four settles quickly into pretty standard high school drama territory, as John falls for beautiful photographer Sarah (Agron), befriends the lonely nerd Sam (Callan McAuliffe) who actually believes in aliens, and constantly clashes with a cocky jock (Jake Abel) who shares a lot of DNA with Andrew McCarthy's popped-collar Blane from Pretty in Pink. It just isn't easy being the new guy in school, especially when you're discovering superpowers that make your hands light up in the middle of class, and especially when those sloped-forehead Mogadorians are hot on your trail and not afraid to use your girlfriend as a hostage.
The screenplay by Alfred Gough and Miles Millar-- adapting the young adult novel by James Frey and Jobie Hughes--works a few surprises into the familiar high school scenario; an action scene set at a haunted house goes in some unexpected directions, and the more we learn about Number Four's outer space world, the stranger and more entertaining it gets (that pet beagle is not what he seems). But as I Am Number Four ramps up toward the inevitable third-act fireballs and fights, any out-there appeal gets washed out by lots of CGI and pretty girls walking slowly away from explosions (Teresa Palmer, who shows up late as the alien Number Six, makes for a great bad-girl black swan to Agron's buttoned-up Sarah). By the end it's even turned into a kind of Spider-Man knockoff, a young man standing in a graveyard, contemplating the meaning of his newfound great power and responsibility.
Lucky for everyone behind I Am Number Four, their target audience may not be old enough to have seen the first Spider-Man in theaters, much less Pretty in Pink, and all of the movie's moments of unoriginality could wash right over the girls wooed by Pettyfer's good looks or the boys in need of a Michael Bay action fix before the next Transformers movie. They've paid good money to see much worse, but a movie as ho-hum okay and expensive-- and likely profitable-- as I Am Number Four makes you wonder if they'll ever get to see much better, either.
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