‘I Am Number Four’ (2011) review: All of the angst, only some of the magic

After narrowly escaping a dangerous explosion,  John (Alex Pettyfer) emerges from the burning embers determined to fulfill his destiny. (Photo credit: DreamWorks)

After narrowly escaping a dangerous explosion, John (Alex Pettyfer) emerges from the burning embers determined to fulfill his destiny. (Photo credit: DreamWorks)


‘Twilight’ meets ‘Harry Potter’ in ‘I Am Number Four’

Teenage angst seems to be all the rage in movies these days. You finish sitting through one just to find yourself confronted with another. And for some reason, audiences continue to fill theaters to see these all-too-familiar tales of misery and woe. And so we’re introduced to “I Am Number Four,” the latest endeavor to cash in on the “Twilight”-esque fever still sweeping the entertainment world. The strangest part, though, is that the whole of “Number Four” is greater than the sum of its parts, and it’s not really obvious why.

“I Am Number Four,” directed by D.J. Caruso (“Disturbia”) starts, oddly enough, with a “Twilight”-style opening with Number Three, an incredibly agile Lorien, being chased down in the tropics by Mogadorians (Voldemort-looking aliens bent on destorying the nine remaining Loriens after ravaging their home world), which signals that Number Four’s number is up next. (Apparently these biker-gang wannabes can only kill the Loriens in numerical order. Go figure.) Switching gears, Number Four (Alex Pettyfer, “Alex Rider: Operation Stormbreaker,” soon to star in “Beastly”) narrates his past (again, very much like “Twilight”). After having to leave his sun-washed Florida bungalow, Number Four, aka John Smith, finds himself in the 1950s-era town of Paradise, Ohio, with his protector, Henri (Timothy Olyphant, “The Crazies”). It doesn’t take long before he bumps into his shutterbug love interest, Sarah (Diana Agron, “Glee”). On top of that, just as in puberty, John discovers new powers radiating throughout him, making for some interesting light shows. But his domestic bliss isn’t long for this world, as the Mogs descend upon this sleepy town in search of him. But instead of running away, John charges head first into the coming onslaught. To aid him are Number Six (Teresa Palmer, “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”), a Lorien with some kick-butt abilities, and Sam (Callan McAuliffe, “Flipped”), a sort-of alien hunter who proves his worth more than once.

“Number Four” stays close to the source plot (a novel of the same title by Pittacus Lore), which is why the narration at the beginning was much needed: If you haven’t read the book, you would need more than telepathy to figure out what was going on. The biggest flaw here was that the movie’s creators simply gathered bits and pieces from other movies and coalesced them into something just more than mediorce. The love-angst situation had to be plucked directly from Stephenie Meyer’s best-selling novel, the magic and main villians escaped from the “Harry Potter” franchise and the colossal fight scenes were courtesy of “Transformers.” (“Number Four,” incidently, was produced by Michael Bay.) If you like any of these movies (either all or separately), you’ll find something to like here, but that by no means grants the director the right to invent a cinematic version of a mash-up. However, some credit has to be given to the simple beauty of watching aliens nearly eviscerate a high school with fire-spewing technology, magical powers and extremely large chimeras. It’s kind of epic. The last 20 minutes had to be the best by far.

Pettyfer holds the movie down well, despite being fairly new to the movie circuit. And Palmer and McAufliffe were brilliant. A little more of each of them would have gone a long way. However, the rest cannot be said for the remainder of the cast. The boxed-in acting of Olyphant and Agron was truly a missed opportunity. It’s obvious it’s not their fault they played such one-dimensional characters, but that still doesn’t stop it from stinging.

It’s blatantly obvious sequels are being considered if “Number Four” proves finacially impressive. (The book’s sequel, “The Power of Six,” is set to be released Aug. 23.) And it wouldn’t be all too shocking if one was announced before long. Maybe it’s the February lull (long known for producing horrible movies), but for all its flaws, “Number Four” is enjoyable. It must be all the explosions. You could pay to see worse. You could be watching “Twilight.”

Three destined stars out of five.

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