By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
His name is John Smith. He’s a high school teen, a loner, a misfit.
But there’s a difference. He’s also an alien. And not the illegal kind. He is actually from another planet.
He’s also a fugitive on the run from forces from yet another planet who have come to Earth to kill him. He knows he’s fourth in line for execution, and that the first three boys have already been killed.
I Am Number Four is an adolescent science fiction fantasy about one of nine aliens from the doomed planet Lorien who closely resemble humans and fled to Earth when a species called the Mogadorians invaded and destroyed their home planet.
Each of the nine has been assigned a guardian, and they all develop superpowers as they grow into adulthood on Earth. Each was also assigned a number.
Mogadorians led by Commander, played by Kevin Durand, have followed the escaped aliens to Earth intent on hunting down and killing all nine of them. But they can only be killed in numerical order — the reasons for which remain conveniently fuzzy.
Alex Pettyfer stars as John Smith, Number Four, who keeps moving from town to town and changing his identity over and over again, accompanied by his guardian, Henri, played by Timothy Olyphant.
When they feel their pursuers closing in, they move from the Florida Keys to a small town in Ohio called Paradise, disguised as a high school student and his father. With Numbers One through Three already murdered, he knows that he’s next on the hit list.
But keeping a low profile isn’t easy in the cellphone and YouTube era when Four’s telekinetic powers start kicking in.
This detailed back story, by the way, unfolds as much less dramatically urgent and interesting on-screen than its desciption makes it sound.
In Paradise, Number Four as John Smith falls in love for the first time, with Sarah Hart, a photographer played by Dianna Agron (of TV’s “Glee”), whose jeopardy at the hands of his pursuers gives him additional motivation to stand up and face his aggressive enemies.
And Teresa Palmer, who turns up as Number Six, may have something to say about all this as well.
Director DJ Caruso borrows the approach of one of his producers, Michael Bay, and squanders his assets by letting the showy but empty special effects overwhelm his story with overblown CGI pyrotechnics.
While Caruso hopes to do for Alex Pettyfer what he did for Shia LeBeouf — whom he directed in Disturbia and Eagle Eye — which is to make his star a big star, he ends up highlighting and thus celebrating the effects rather than the performers.
The screenplay by Alfred Gough, Miles Millar, and Marti Noxon, based on the Young Adult novel of the same title by Pittacus Lore (the pen name of the team of Jobie Hughes and James Frey), uses the otherworldly-character-as-teen-outsider thrust so prominent in the Twilight series as a coming-of-age metaphor that speaks to its target teen audience and nobody else.
Pettyfer may be a teen flavor of the month, but he is not exactly commanding — at least not yet — on the screen.
But the bigger problem is that the narrative never really comes into clear focus. And by the time, in Act III, that I Am Number Four presents itself as the creature feature that it ultimately turns out be, we realize we have taken a step backward into video-game territory, and are about to sit through a climax that is a bloody bore.
So we’ll count up to 2 stars out of 4 for I Am Number Four, a by-the-numbers teen sci-fi thriller that remains alien to anyone over twenty or under twelve.