Authorship of the young-adult novel I Am Number Four is credited to a certain “Pittacus Lore.” If you have a faint suspicion of a pseudonym, bravo to you—the name represents a collaboration between somebody with the barely more probable name of Jobie Hughes, and James Frey of A Million Little Pieces infamy.
Assuming that the novel is more-or-less faithfully rendered in the film version, opening this weekend, I can only conclude that the authors used up all their creativity on their pen name.
There isn’t a non-derivative moment in this sci-fi melodrama blended with maudlin teen romance. Scene after scene, idea after idea seems lifted out of earlier favorites ranging from Superman to Jaws to The X-Files.
Above all, however, I Am Number Four seems to aspire to Twilight. Though the premise is nominally science-fictional rather than supernatural, it’s still aimed directly at the hearts, and pocketbooks, of teenage girls (and maybe of the teenage girls who tend to live on inside a lot of adult women) who want a handsome but gentle protector.
At one point the hero even uses his powers to save the heroine from an oncoming car.
Said hero is John (Alex Pettyfer), a strapping high-school kid who, we soon learn, is a native of the planet Lorien, one of nine kids scattered across Earth who survived their home world’s invasion by a race of vicious, fanged, tatted-up skinhead-punk aliens with gill-slits on either side of their noses.
John has an equally strapping bodyguard, Henri (Timothy Olyphant), and the two of them lead an itinerant existence, trying to stay one step ahead of the alien assassins, who are trying to kill the survivors off in order.
The story starts with John sensing the death of Number Three. Henri whisks him off to a new hiding place, a small town in Ohio. He quickly falls in love with a local girl (Dianna Agron) and makes a nerdy friend (Callan McAuliffe).
But a typical wholesome teen life is not in the cards for John, as the sinister aliens are closing in, and so is a mystery woman (Teresa Palmer). He also soon learns that he can conjure fields of energy from the palms of his glowing hands.
The reason I’m not sorry I sat through I Am Number Four arrived in the last 20 minutes or so of the film. Director D. J. Caruso and the special-effects folk serve up a thoroughly entertaining, action-packed grand finale as the punky aliens, aided by two hideous pet monsters—something like dinosaurs crossed with pit bulls crossed with flying squirrels—launch an all-out attack on John and his pals at the high school.
I Am Number Four’s dialogue is too insipid, and the actors too generic and antiseptic, to give it any authenticity.
But it’s slickly made and well-paced; it zips right along, so maybe in 20 or 30 years it will play as a teen-camp artifact, like, say, the Beach Party movies do now.
Starts Feb. 18 at numerous Kyrene Corridor theaters.