Appropriately, noted fabulist James Frey has, with co-conspirator Jobie Hughes, hidden behind a pseudonym for the book I Am Number Four. But he’s far less coy about revealing his influences, which are worn right there on the sleeve. The kids like Twilight, eh? If they’ll go gaga for brooding, sexless vampires, perhaps there’s room in their hearts for brooding, sexless aliens, too. I Am Number Four’s film version was greenlit by producer Michael Bay a full year before the first book (in a threatened series) was published; rarely have filmmakers been so openly cynical in their commercialism.
Boring Alex Pettyfer plays a young man from the planet Lorian, which was decimated by a group of snarling baddies decked out in sharp teeth and tats that make them more ridiculous than scary. Pettyfer was one of 10 super-powered kids who, like Superman, were sent from their dying planet to dwell on earth. Unfortunately, the bad guys want to finish the job, meaning Pettyfer’s life is one lived perpetually on the run, with little chance for meaningful, quasi-human relationships apart from the strained one with his strict-but-should-be-more-strict guardian (Timothy Olyphant, on hand for some much-needed credibility), with whom he has recently relocated to an Ohio town so wholesomely backwoods the schools still show film strips.
Despite the sticky wicket into which he’s been born, it’s difficult to care for Pettyfer’s emo E.T., in large part due to his lack of self-preservation. Because he’s bored, Pettyfer attends high school—which would be an amusing joke if I Am Number Four had a sense of humor. It’s only a matter of time before there’s a massive alien-on-alien smackdown within the school walls. Nor does he care for the safety of others, entering into a hesitant Edward-Bella-styled relationship with an aspiring photographer ( Glee ’s Dianna Agron) who used to date the school bully. Nearly every superhero broods over putting their mortal loved ones at risk. Not the hero of I Am Number Four, who never entertains the possibility that his new gal could be vaporized by his pursuer’s fuck-off laser guns. Perhaps Pettyfer develops basic preservation traits in a future installment; alas, it doesn’t look like filmgoers will have the chance to see that happen.