Imagine the cast of Beverly Hills, 90210 being dropped into Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters from the X-Men movies and you’ll have a sense of the uneven pastiche that is I Am Number Four.
After being outed as “some kind of freak,” handsome teen John Smith (Alex Pettyfer) and his guardian Henri (Timothy Olyphant) throw their belongings into their car and burn photographs and anything else that connects them to their Florida community.
“This is the part I hate the most. The running,” John explains in a lengthy voiceover, as they head to the tiny town of Paradise, Ohio, where they just happen to have a long-vacant house on the edge of town.
Then the backstory really gets confusing. John is one of nine alien kids from planet Lorien who have special “legacies” that make them extraordinarily powerful. Henri is a warrior assigned to guard John. The bad guys are also aliens, the Mogadorians, or “The Mogs,” and after invading Lorien they’re tracking down The Nine to kill them, apparently in preparation for invading Earth.
The real problem with I Am Number Four, however, is pacing. After an exciting first 10 minutes, the film settles into a cliché-laden teen school soap opera, including John, the lone outsider, the bullied science nerd Sam (Callan McAuliffe), the jock bully Mark ( Jake Abel) and his posse, and super-cute Sarah (Dianna Agron), who falls for John, which — surprise! — angers ex-bf Mark. Yadda yadda, you’ve seen all these trite interchanges a thousand times before on the big screen. After an hour or so of high school drama, the Mogs finally show up, along with the sexy Number Six (Teresa Palmer), and the action finally resumes.
There are some inspired ideas in I Am Number Four, including the chimera that turns out to be a second guardian for Number Four, shape-shifting in interesting, if predictable ways. Each legacy alien also has spiral-shaped tattoos that connect them with the other eight, and when one dies, the mark burns. Cool, but pointless.
There are also a few violent scenes that younger viewers may find upsetting, even with the film’s PG-13 rating. Gore doesn’t splatter on screen (a welcome relief), but there’s a scene where a UFO-conspiracy Web nerd is killed by the Mogs that’s definitely disturbing, and another where a school janitor vanishes and we see his floor waxer leaving a wide red swath across the floor, presumably of blood.
If you like films about teens trying to fit in to the pecking order of a small-town school, interwoven with an alien conspiracy story highlighted by entertaining action sequences, films that feature an allbeautiful cast, then you might get quite a kick out of I Am Number Four. It’s certainly a good “date night” film for high school kids. But, ultimately, it’s not much more than that, though it clearly ended with sequels in mind.