The best way I can describe I Am Number 4 is a sort of contemporary update of Escape to Witch Mountain (1975) for the Twilight set. If that sounds appealing, you’ll like the movie. If it doesn’t, skip it. I have fond memories of Escape to Witch Mountain, so I didn’t mind the shameful ripoff of the the storyline as much as some.
Based on the popular book by Pittacus Lore (actually a pen name for James Fry), the film tells the story of Number Four, one of nine extraterrestrials who live on earth and are being pursued by the Mogadorians, who destroyed their planet. Number Four and his guardian Henri are constantly on the run, barely staying one step ahead of their would-be assassins. The first three have already been killed, and Number Four is the next one up.
Number Four has been creatively named John Smith by his guardian/protector Henri played by Timothy Olyphant. This moniker is used so that John may blend in and be inconspicuous when he attends high school. Never mind the fact that nowadays anyone actually named John Smith is immediately regarded with suspicion because it is such a cliche.
Indeed, when John does attend a new school at the beginning of the film, every time he introduces himself to someone as John Smith, their response is, “You’re kidding, right?” Way to blend in. Making matters worse, John can’t keep himself from defending a nerdy kid being bullied and immediately draws the ire of the school’s alpha male consortium. Yes, he’s a smart one, that John.
He also falls in love with a beautiful and sweet artsy-type (Sarah) played by Glee’s Dianna Agron. This time when Henri tells John it’s time to pack up and go, John steadfastly refuses, because he doesn’t want to leave Sarah behind. We later find out why she is so important to him.
Henri has no choice but to try to prepare John the best he can to defend himself. The two work on honing John’s emerging powers for upcoming battle. This being a Michael Bay production, when the action comes (it takes a long, long time to come) it is LOUD, relentless, and over-stylized.
The last action sequence is also accompanied by the appearance of Number Six, played by Teresa Palmer, who kicks some major ass during her way-too-short screen time. I wish she would have been in more of the movie. The film’s ending obviously sets up a sequel, with Number Six being prominently featured.
The film is short on substance, and could have been cut down considerably in running time without any consequence to the threadbare plot. Their are giant gaps in logic. For example, during the film’s final action sequence, Sarah and John are literally running for their lives. The Mongadorians are breathing down their necks, and the two decide to duck into their high school dark room to make googly eyes and develop some photos that Sarah took of John. Seriously. It was just one of many eye-rolling moments in the film.
If you are expecting a hardcore sci-fi movie, you will be sorely disappointed. There is very little of the mythology explained. I have no idea why the Mongadorians are trying to kill the nine, it is never explained. On the plus side, the Mongadorians are all kinds of creepy.
Alex Pettyfer plays John, and I’m not buying that he is the next big thing. Although he is easy on the eyes, he emotes precious little emotion during the film. Dianna Agron is lovely but has nothing to do. Olyphant, as usual, is solid. Callan McAuliffe is sweetly charming as the nerdy sidekick who is obsessed with alien lore.
Overall, this is an utterly forgettable popcorn film, but I am excited about the prospect of (hopefully) seeing more of Number Six, and the action sequences were satisfying.