Say this for I Am Number Four: It's blessedly free of any original sins. Instead, they're all copied. Here a little Superman, there a bit of Spider-Man, now it's Twilight with aliens, then it's a spaghetti western with trucks – this thing borrows more heavily than an investment bank in an unregulated market.
Or maybe I should put a more positive spin on the proceedings. Think of the movie as a cinematic mattress and, for those of you who take comfort from the familiar, enjoy the slumber.
Once again, a gifted child descends from a great intergalactic distance to make his home on Mother Earth. Actually, in this arithmetic, there are nine such children, escapees from the planet Lorien and on the lam from their arch-enemies, a band of extraterrestrial baddies known as Mogadorians.
Being baddies, they wear Sergio Leone duster coats and sport tattoos on their heads that would be the envy of Mike Tyson. Anyway, the focus here is on but one of the youthful Loriens, who, in case you hadn't guessed, ranks Number Four on the hit-list and, in his new earthly digs, chooses to go by the name of John Smith. Apparently, imagination is not one of his superpowers.
We first spot the now teenage John (Alex Pettyfer) and his anxious guardian Henry (Timothy Olyphant) on the sandy beaches of Florida, at least until the "Mogs" pick up their scent, prompting a hasty retreat to yet another hideout. This time it's to the Midwestern blandness of Ohio, where our lad does what teen aliens typically do in these circumstances – enroll in high school.
Once there, he continues to follow form to the letter: falling in love with Sarah the sensitive girl (Dianna Agron), befriending Sam the science nerd, and taking advantage of the class bullies to hone his inchoate powers. These latter include the standard trope of leaping tall buildings in a single bound, plus something that appears to involve corralling lightning in the palm of his hand and then getting all telekinetic on us. But don't quote me on that – I'm woefully undereducated in matters telekinetic.
To this point, director D.J. Caruso manages to ascend to the level of competence, striking a nice balance between the competing genres, keeping the high-school angst almost real and the special effects credibly muted. Competent too are Pettyfer and Agron as the loving principals – they don't exactly redeem the clichés but do combine to dust them off a little.
Meanwhile, a pair of tiny mysteries have sprouted and are doing their best to confound us. Somewhere out on the interstate highways, those pursuing Mogs have turned into tattooed teamsters driving a transport truck, the contents of which remain invisible but not inaudible. Cue the deep growls and the deeper question: What manner of rough beast lurks therein?
And who is that hot blonde Caruso keeps cutting to, the gal with the pre-Raphaelite tresses and the tight motorcycle leathers and the kick-ass attitude? Well, if he's Number Four, she must be … oh, do the math yourself.
But now the climax approaches, and with it the noisy destruction of any balance or moderation (did I mention that Michael Bay is the producer?). So expect that rough beast, its hour come round at last, to slouch toward more camera time.
And expect a promise to be broken, the one made early on that insists, "We are the last of our kind." Not bloody likely. In Hotel Hollywood, the rule is clear: The more familiar the mattress, the more procreative the behaviour upon it. Sequels will be born. Sleep will follow.
I Am Number Four
- Directed by D.J. Caruso
- Written by Alfred Gough, Miles Millar and Marti Noxon
- Starring Alex Pettyfer and Dianna Agron
- Classification: PG