Film Review: I Am Number Four

Tattooed space monsters hunt down and kill alien teens in hiding on Earth in this bland sci-fi action movie adapted from a young-adult novel.

Nine alien youngsters, each named with a number and accompanied by a warrior/guardian, fled their home planet, Lorien, after it was laid waste to by a race of tattooed, genocidal monsters called Mogadorians, who bear a striking resemblance to Clive Barker's Cenobites. Now teenagers, the Lorian refuges are scattered across the globe but linked by a powerful psychic bond, so blondly handsome Florida beach-boy Number Four—who’s adopted the more human-sounding (if conspicuously “anonymous”) name John Smith (Alex Pettyfer)—is painfully aware of the deaths of Numbers One through Three, which happen in rapid succession.

He also knows that the Mogadorians, apparently in the thrall of some alien-monster form of obsessive/compulsive disorder, can only kill the fugitive Loriens in sequence, which means he’s next in line. So John and his guardian, Henri (Timothy Olyphant), pull up stakes and relocate to sleepy little Paradise, Ohio, in hopes of throwing off the interstellar hellhounds on their trail.

In short order, John falls in love with cool photographer chick Sarah (“Glee” cheerleader Dianna Agron); befriends cute little nerd-boy Sam (Callan McAuliffe), the son of a nutty UFO buff who vanished under mysterious circumstances; and adopts an adorable beagle pup, which is a lot of encumbrances for someone who needs to be ready to leave town on a moment’s notice. John also earns the enmity of bull-necked jock Mark (Jake Abel), yet another no-no for someone who’s supposed to be keeping a low profile…but boys will be boys, no matter what planet they hail from.

And God save undercover extraterrestrials from the curse of YouTube: No matter how circumspect they’re trying to be, if there’s someone nearby with a smart-phone when they experience an unexpected burst of otherworldly power, their secret is only as safe as its proximity to a hundred cute cat videos.
Based on the first in a projected series of six novels by Jobie Harris and James Frey (disgraced author of the partly fictionalized memoir A Million Little Pieces), I Am Number Four is inoffensive enough, assuming you can divorce the title from memories of the genuinely innovative Patrick McGoohan series “The Prisoner” and ignore the fact that its message—popular kids peak in twelfth grade, while high-school misfits inherit the Earth—is about a quarter of a century past its new-and-cool date.

Both the book and the novel speak squarely to the pressing concerns of high-school students—popularity, pressure to conform, sex, bullying, the nagging sense that everyone else is blissfully normal—without shedding any particularly original light on them. But you can’t really call that a flaw, at least not a flaw of intent. Originality—real originality, as opposed to this season’s originality—isn’t particularly prized by the vast majority of teens, and they’re I Am Number Four’s target audience, not you.