If you wanted to make Twilight but without the personality, you would have a film akin to the cynical cash-grab that is I Am Number Four. Sure, Twilight‘s personality is creepy and misogynistic, but it’s genuinely offering something to a particular audience even though I find that “thing” (idolization of possessive stalkers) repulsive. I Am Number Four, on the other hand, is a vapid shell of a presumptuous franchise. The film never bothers to establish compelling characters or compelling situations. Every time I Am Number Four could do something interesting or inventive, it scurries away to the most predictable, bland solution it can find. There’s nothing redeeming about I Am Number Four, from the script, to the action, to the visuals, to the performances, to presumably the craft services. It rarely even shows the courtesy to be laughably bad. It simply carries on and on and on and assumes the audience is enraptured in the adventures of dull, attractive teenagers.
“John Smith” (Pettyfer) is a refugee alien whose planet was destroyed by a race of evil aliens known as the Mogadorians. Accompanied by his stern, paternal guardian Henri (Timothy Olyphant), John is “Number Four” of nine aliens who escaped his homeworld but is now being tracked on Earth by the Mogadorians. This information isn’t shown to us or relayed in an inventive fashion, but rather through John’s bored-sounding monologue as he rides in a car with Henri on their way to a new fake life. This detached, unimaginative description sets the tone for the tiresome movie the audience will be enduring for the next 110 minutes.
I Am Number Four is devoid of almost any humor, but it does get in an unintentionally hilarious moment when John, feeling cooped up and wanting to go to school, is told by Henri to “keep a low profile.” So what does John do when he gets on campus? He throws up his hoodie. It’s a smart move because now no one will notice the GQ model wandering the halls of the local small town high school.
Unfortunately for John, the hoodie can’t stop the emergence of his powers, namely that he has flashlights for hands. Henri explains that the nine who escaped the planet have superpowers and that John will learn to manage not only his flashlight hands, but also his newfound super-speed, strength, and agility. John’s reaction to all of this should be, “Wait—I’m not only ridiculously handsome, but I also have superpowers? It’s like I’m Justin Timberlake!” Instead, he continues to mope and grimace while striking up a friendship with the school’s resident bullied kid (Callan McAuliffe) and gorgeous artsy chick (Dianna Agron).
As John deals with the burden of being hot, having superpowers, and receiving the attentions of a drop-dead beautiful bombshell, he’s also being hunted by the “Mogs” (which just made me think of the adorable creatures from the Final Fantasy series, but my nerdiness is no fault of the film’s) as well as a fellow refugee (Teresa Palmer). Rather than develop the Mogs into an interesting species, they’re simply The Bad Guys. They have pointy teeth, gills in their face, big black eyes, and enjoy killing. Their hobbies include mocking humans and scaring fat children. Their leader (Kevin Durand) doesn’t even get a name. He’s simply credited as “Mogadorian Commander”. As for Palmer’s character, she only exists to participate in the giant set piece at the end of the movie. She is “Number Six” but “Generic Bad-Ass Chick #6784” would fit just as well.
The movie is loaded with problems. The effects look cheap, the pacing is a chore, and the direction is uninspired. But the biggest problem is that I Am Number Four has no characters. It’s difficult to fault the actors when they have absolutely nothing to work with. Characters need to have flaws to make them more relatable. There needs to be some kind of shading to let us know that while John may be from the planet of the Super-powered Handsomes, he’s not perfect. Instead, the script chooses to waste time explaining how a girl as beautiful as Agron wouldn’t be insanely popular and getting hit on all the time (the answer: she used to be a cheerleader, but got into photography and her ex-boyfriend spread nasty rumors about her. Also, she wears ugly hats.)
Rather than give us interesting characters in a worthwhile story, I Am Number Four is too busy imagining the glorious franchise its about to open up. Like the abysmal Vampire’s Apprentice, it’s so busy setting up future stories, it forgets to tell a good one in the movie we’re currently watching. It’s clear that someone looked at Twilight, assumed that Hot Teenagers + Supernatural = Profit, and that’s how you get I Am Number Four. If we’re lucky and America doesn’t let me down, there won’t be an I Am Number Four Saga.