For a film focused on teenage angst and invaders from other planets, I AM NUMBER FOUR shows a curious tameness. Based on the book by Pittacus Lore, directed by D.J Caruso, who made EAGLE EYE and DISTURBIA so much fun, co-scripted by Marti Noxon of Buffy fame, co-produced by Michael Bey of blowing things up fame, the story of an orphaned visitor from another planet tasked with saving the Earth from the aliens who destroyed his own home planet, Lorien, is a premise that stays more low-key than it should considering the overall lack of originality.
Alex Pettyfer broods nicely as John, the orphan in question. Aside from being a teenager, hes also brooding about being constantly uprooted by his guardian, Henri (Timothy Olyphant). They have to keep one or two, or preferably several steps ahead of the Mog. Those would be the evil aliens who are currently planning on destroying Earth once they have taken care of the nine special children who escaped the Mog decimation Lorien. Being an orderly, if ruthless, race, the Mogs, in their big black trench coats and tribal tattoos, are going in order, and as the film begins, Number Three is terminated.
In addition to human-like puberty, with its attendant manifestations, these special Loriens also have to deal with coming into their Legacies, the super powers that make them special. Like a boys voice cracking, these powers pop up without warning, and in Johns case, without his having been told to expect them. Apparently Henri parenting skills are less than perfect. Other than that, the Loriens look exactly like Earthlings, which should make blending in, as Henri is constantly reminding John to do, easy.
That John is startlingly beautiful does not help in that quest. Neither does the suspiciously common name of John Smith, with which Henri saddled him when they arrive in their latest hideout, Paradise, OH. Nor the fact that John insists on attending the local high school, where he throws himself between the schools resident bully Mark (Jake Abel) and its resident science geek Sam (Callan MacAuliffe) while also pitching woo at the bullys ex, Sarah (Dianna Agron), and longing not just for her sweet lips, but also for the normalcy of her Norman Rockwell of a family.
One of the big problems here is that, as written, the supporting characters are far more interesting than either John or Sarah. The Mogs, for example. Its not just the gill slits on either side of their noses, or the dental array that gives pause, they also quip their way through mayhem with a dry irony that is one of the few high points to be found. The other is McAulliffe, who is allowed a few nicely rendered quips of his own while Sam is being dumbfounded to discover that his long-held suspicions about alien visitors is true, and not as fun as he thought it would be.
The special effects are ebullient, if not original in concept, though Pettyfer finds the universal sense of fear and embarrassment of a teenager at the mercy of his changing body when Johns hands suddenly begin to shine like spotlights during class and he flees with an awkward alacrity. Olyphant is noble with an understated sense of humor to leaven the gravitas, Agron has a warm poise topped with a stylish array of spiffy hats, but Teresa Palmer as the mysterious blonde also hot on Johns trail is a raucous leather babe with an acute sense of rebel style.
As for the dog, thats one irresistible beagle.
I AM NUMBER FOUR offers the guilty pleasure of seeing a high school being gutted by strange invader from another world using really nifty gadgets. When the dust clears, and the disjointed coda is tacked on, the way is paved for a sequel, or several, and the audience is left wondering if they will appeal to more than the tweens targets for this one.