When I was doing my trailer reviews for this weekend’s movies, I guessed that I am Number Four was being deliberately obtuse about its plot. All the trailer said was that he was Number Four, that he had escaped, and that someone was coming to kill him. No hints of who was coming or why or how he had come across his superpowers. My theory was that either the movie’s plot was so twisty they couldn’t talk about it without spoiling it, or the filmmakers were hiding it because people would think it was stupid. Well, I saw the movie. And now I understand. The plot, at its most basic level, goes like this:
A teenage boy with superpowers and his protector are on the run from assassins, but become tied to a town when the boy falls in love, and must stand and fight instead of running.
Now that I’ve seen the movie, I can understand why they hid the rest of it. Because it sounds silly. It’s only kind of silly in the full movie but in a trailer it would have sounded downright ridiculous. Like a joke that doesn’t know it’s a joke. I don’t consider it a spoiler to tell you what it is they’re hiding, because you find out like 12 seconds into the movie and the story has been released in book form for ages. Also, the movie would be impossible to review without mentioning this big, glaring, central fact. But since I respect your delicate sensibilities, I’ll give you time to bugger off before I continue.
Still here? Alright: he’s an alien. That’s the big secret. I was expecting a government conspiracy involving a supersoldier project, but he’s actually an alien from another planet who has superpowers because he’s an alien. Like Superman, except there are nine of them and they spend all their time hiding and/or minding their own business instead of rescuing people and pretending to be mild mannered reporters.
Hello. You don’t recognize me because I took my glasses off.
Daniel (Alex Pettyfer) is Number Four. He finds out through some sort of alien telepathy that Number Three has been killed (the Numbers don’t know each other, or how to find each other, just that there are nine of them, for whatever reason). He and his also-alien-but-lacking-in-superpowers protector Henri (Timothy Olyphant) are really worried about him being next, so they change his name to John Smith and move (again… they move a lot) from Florida to Paradise, Ohio.
Don’t worry that you have to keep changing your name and I always stay Henri.
It’s because I’m Timothy Olyphant and I’m awesome.
In Paradise (which is not nearly as nice as its name suggests) John meets a popular girl named Sarah (Dianna Agron) who takes photos (mostly because she has to have some sort of hobby for John to compliment her on) and a nerdy boy named Sam (Callan McAuliffe) who gets made fun of because his missing father was a UFO scientist/anthropologist who Sam believes was abducted by aliens.
No points for guessing whose UFOs daddy was studying.
Who looks like someone shrunk Jason Sudekis,
and is not nearly attractive enough to be popular in a high school.
John is just like any other new kid who lies about his name (John Smith? Really?), hides his origins, forges his school transcripts, and looks old enough to be in college. Then his superpowers manifest themselves. Henri (quite rightly) is worried about being discovered, but this time “John” is in love (apparently his race mate for life… like penguins) and he won’t leave this time.
I wuuuuuv youuu!
John’s superpowers, which are some sort of gift… apparently not all of his people have them… borrow heavily from several other mass media fantasy stories. He’s got a necklace and scars that look like symbols from The Legend of Zelda, he has Jean Grey’s telekinesis powers from X-Men, he jumps and flips around like young Yoda in a lightsaber fight from Star Wars, and he shoots fireballs from his hands like those kids from Dragonball Z.
Now all they need to do is have him say “Lumos” to make his hands light up.
The people (and I use that word very loosely) who are hunting him, called the Mogadorians, are also a conglomeration of clichés and ripoffs from other sci-fi stories. They have Ferengi teeth, bald, tattooed heads like Nero, the evil Romulan from Star Trek, and they all wear those black trenchcoats that are so ubiquitous among ne’er do wells that even people from other planets wear them.
There must be a retailer called Evil Outifts R Us where they all shop.
They’re either from the same planet as John or from a different one, it’s not all that clear. In fact, there are a lot of things that aren’t clear in this movie. The voice overs at the beginning and end are very brief and sparse on facts. I guess the three credited screenwriters (Alfred Gough, Miles Millar, and Marti Noxon) did that on purpose because they didn’t want to drive away all the “normal” viewers with too much nerd talk. But they went a little too far, in my opinion.
Why are these nine aliens numbered? Why are the evil aliens hunting them in numbered order? And why are they bothering to hunt them at all, when they’re only hiding in jungles and attending high schools and just generally minding their own business? What were they supposed to be doing on Earth? What’s in the mysterious box that Henri’s supposed to give to John “when the time is right?” What’s John’s real name? If you’re hoping to get answers to any of these questions, you’ll probably have to read the book (Jobie Hughes and James Frey wrote it under the pen name Pittacus Lore) because all this movie is concerned with is puppy love and action.
Take that, police! How dare you break up our underage drinking/smoochies fiesta!
Anyway there’s a big showdown battle with a bit of Deus Ex Machina to it and an ending that’s a blatant setup for a sequel, perhaps several, but I really doubt that I am Number Four will get a sequel. Director D.J. Caruso has gone all dark and shaky-battle cam for this movie, but although it stars teenagers and has real death in it, the concepts are just too juvenile. Several kinds of aliens that are all basically human, giant ridiculous monsters, glowing rocks, these are things you would expect from a story for younger children.
At least the special effects aren’t silly.
So while I did enjoy watching the movie, it’s just two hours of brainless entertainment. It tries to be mysterious but ends up frustrating. It tries to be romantic and ends up sappy. It tries to be deep and ends up kind of goofy. So if you want to be challenged, look elsewhere.