“I Am Number Four”
1.5 out of 4 stars
Starring: Alex Pettyfer, Timothy Olyphant, Dianna Agron and Teresa Palmer. Now playing at the West Theatre and Steamboat Springs’ Wildhorse Stadium Cinemas.
With most movies about aliens, you’d expect to be mesmerized by all kinds of exciting technology and exotic creatures. As the most appealing thing about “I Am Number Four” is a shape-shifting beagle named after Cleveland Browns great Bernie Kosar, it’s safe to say that the “wow factor” isn’t in play here.
When teenager John Smith (Alex Pettyfer) moves from the tropics of Florida to the ironically named small town of Paradise, Ohio, it means a lot of changes: new house, new school, new name.
His identity as John Smith is just the latest in a long line of aliases imposed on him throughout his life.
His real name? Number Four. His real home? Lorien, a far-off world which he and eight other alien youths escaped before the destruction of the planet at the hands of the warmongering Mogadorians.
Scattered around Earth are the rest of his generation, whom the Mogadorians have been hunting down and killing in numerical order. With three of his people already slaughtered, John’s number is up, a fact not lost on his guardian, Henri (Timothy Olyphant), who insists that his charge keep a low profile.
But, even knowing what’s at stake for him, John can’t help feeling the need to connect with some of his new classmates, namely the beautiful Sarah Hart (Dianna Agron), though the Mogadorians may be the least of his worries if Sarah’s quarterback ex-boyfriend (Jake Abel) has anything to say about it.
The ever-present plastic look on Pettyfer’s face says it all — “Sure, my parents may be dead, and I may be done in next, but that doesn’t mean I can’t be an average rebellious teen.” Too bad he can’t construe any of his ennui into making his character the slightest bit interesting.
Olyphant also goes through the motions as Henri, remaining always on the lookout for the evil, destructive forces that are closing in on the two of them, a gang of towering humanoid monsters with pale skin, bald heads, fangs, and creepiest of all, leather duster jackets.
Agron is at least watchable as aspiring shutterbug Sarah, a high school outsider finding an immediate kinship with John despite interference from her possessive ex, Mark. But, the captain of the football team doesn’t know what’s in store for him when her new love interest begins to tap into his alien abilities, much to the delight of John’s new and so far only friend, Sam (Callan McAuliffe), whose long-lost father may have had connections to the Loriens before his disappearance.
It’s not the plodding pace and poorly constructed plot of this science fiction tale, though these elements certainly don’t help. It’s not even the presence of villains who are more dopey-looking than scary.
The truly unavoidable part of this is that all the characters are completely dull, and the cast either doesn’t realize it or doesn’t care. Even the arrival of John’s fellow Lorien, Number Six (Teresa Palmer), a hard-fighting, gun-toting renegade — who you know is cool because she walks away from an explosion without looking back — is sadly underwhelming.
We’ve seen this story of a young orphan with special powers too many times before to be impressed, but the total lack of charisma is what does it in irrevocably, with the kicker being the overabundance of high school drama in lieu of exposition about the Loriens.
John’s power of unleashing luminescence from his hands, one of a panoply of superhuman abilities possessed by the extraterrestrial, should have been used to shine a light on the route by which the movie was produced, with the film rights to the young adult novel by Pittacus Lore — the pseudonym for writers James Frey and Jobie Hughes — being purchased before the book even reached publication.
Talk about a pathetic attempt by producer Michael Bay to merchandise.
Ending with an obvious lead-in to a sequel, “I Am Number Four” feels less like a fully realized adventure than a half-hearted pilot for a teen TV show. But, if it were to be picked up for the fall schedule, it still seems unlikely to find an audience, coming off as little more than a second-rate “Smallville.”
Scratch that — fourth-rate.
Now playing at the West Theatre and Steamboat Springs’ Wildhorse Stadium Cinemas.
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