With just a little less violence and a complete removal of the foul language, I Am Number Four would be adequate material for a Saturday morning action series, like Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. It clearly has the same sensibilities: Plot, character, theme, and significance don’t matter as long as something marketable is being shown to a mass audience. This is an astonishingly stupid movie, and the filmmakers must have known it, for there’s a noticeable lack of effort with each passing scene; what begins as a bland and baffling science fiction thriller eventually devolves into a mind-numbing laser-blast light show, complete with phony-looking alien creatures, blurred choreography, and dialogue that wouldn’t pass muster in a second-rate comic book.
The premise, as best I understand it, is that nine members of a humanoid alien species fled to Earth after their planet was destroyed. Their enemies – hairless creatures with tattooed heads, pointy teeth, and gills around their noses – have been hunting them down in sequential order, and thus far, three have been killed. And so we meet Number Four (Alex Pettyfer), a teenager who, because of his very existence, must always be on the move. He’s looked after by his mentor, Henri (Timothy Olyphant), who assumes the identity of his father and sees to it that no pictures or videos of him wind up on the internet. After fleeing from a Florida beach community, they arrive in Paradise, Ohio, where Number Four will adopt the absurd alias John Smith and pose as a high school student.
Three inevitable things happen at Paradise High School. First, Number Four befriends the socially shunned science nerd, Sam (Callan McAuliffe), whose father just happened to believe in alien life and in all likelihood was abducted. Second, he makes an enemy out of the football jock, Mark (Jake Abel), whose father is a police officer. Third, he falls in love with Mark’s girlfriend, Sarah (Dianna Agron), who like photography and, like all angst-riddled teenage girls, has the unfortunate ability to see the locals for who they really are. Were it not for the fact that Number Four is an alien, these characters could have been transplanted from any number of after school teenage dramas, where the message is to follow your dreams and listen to your heart.
As Number Four rebels against Henri, special powers begin to emerge, including the ability to turn the palms of his hands into flashlights. He can also manipulate objects by creating invisible energy fields, which also emit from his hands. Sarah remains unaware, but Sam has caught a glimpse, which essentially forces him into becoming an ally. Meanwhile, the enemy aliens, known as the Mogadorians, are onto Number Four’s scent; the leader, known only as Commander (Kevin Durand), seems to be the only one of the group that can speak English, although his range is mostly limited to cheesy puns. He and his posse travel by truck, and they use a semi to transport monstrous beasts that are apparently keen on turkey.
The specifics of the war between Number Four’s kind and the Mogadorians are left a little obscure, and it seems the more the film tries to explain, the less sense it makes. There’s something inherently wrong with death, destruction, and exile being described but not actually shown; Henri tells Number Four plenty about his parents and their world, but without a visual aid, it comes off as little more than a man talking. There’s no way to process what he’s saying. Couldn’t there have been a flashback sequence, or a dream, or a resurfaced memory? The best we’re given is an ornate metal box that Number Four isn’t supposed to open until the time is right. It remains unopened, which suggests the possibility of sequel. This itself suggests extreme confidence – or, more likely, desperation. On the basis of this film, the chances of a sequel being made are about the same as Richard Dawkins converting to Christianity.
We eventually meet another alien, the sexy Number Six (Teresa Palmer), first seen enacting one of the most tiresome of action movie clichés: Walking away from an explosion in slow motion (somewhat enlivened by her ability to generate force fields that protect her from fire). This is, we soon discover, a framing device; when she reappears near the end, she initiates a full-blown shootout spectacle – the kind you don’t see in action movies but in comic book adaptations. She’s supplied with some of the film’s worst dialogue, including a remark about Red Bull so painfully unfunny that it’s downright embarrassing. The title is I Am Number Four, but the film is really more like number two.