Alex Pettyfer is another teenage boy in a long line of studio-made superstars that is more a product of a talented PR firm than a representation of actual talent. That’s not to say Pettyfer can’t hold his own in a movie, but if I were to judge his superstardom based on what I saw in I AM NUMBER 4, I’d have to say the hype doesn’t match the reality. In a role that gave him numerous opportunities to display his range as an actor, whether it be reserved anger at a bully or dealing with the death of a friend, Pettyfer was determined not to change his expression, despite reciting lines and committing acts that would have you believe he was reacting very emotionally. But the lack of emotion fit in well with the overall feel of the film, which was “average and overplayed”.
Pettyfer is John Smith, or more appropriately, the fourth of nine aliens that were castoff to earth when their planet was attacked by a ruthless alien race. But now those evil aliens are attacking the innocent kids on earth and the only thing protecting them are the lone warriors each kid got assigned to them. But they’re teenagers, so of course they want to date girls and play sports. So if all of this seems kind of familiar, it’s because we’ve seen this before as Number 4 is a hodgepodge of other, better movies. We have a baby alien sent to earth with super powers (SUPERMAN), we have the picked-on kid using his new powers against the bully (SPIDER-MAN), the aliens on the run while trying to find their way home (ESCAPE TO WITCH MOUNTAIN), the emotionless, evil aliens that want nothing but to destroy them (reminiscent of the Borg from STAR TREK) and several other plot points that feel all too familiar.
The plot was slightly frustrating as it tried to mesh a science fiction tale with a coming-of-age high school movie. I felt like I was watching a mash-up of a John Hughes film and a Ray Bradbury novel. They crammed a lot of ideas and themes into a 104-minute film, which of course means that some things were just glossed over, like why the kids were on earth in the first place. I would have preferred they saved the played-out high school storylines for whatever mindless show is on the CW network this week and instead focused more on crafting an intelligent, well developed sci-fi plot that made sense and actually gave purpose to the characters.
Timothy Olyphant as Number 4’s guardian (Henri) could have been an interesting character, but I had no idea who he was or what his motivations were. But that can be said for all of the larger storylines of the movie. They resorted to narration to explain who Number 4 was and what happened to his planet, but it was just lightly touched on and not in a way that allowed the audience to connect to his situation. I also got tired of the whininess from Number 4 when it came to not having a life and always being on the run. After 16 years or so, you would think he would understand that he has a bigger purpose. But then again, the audience didn’t completely understand his purpose, so why should he?
I AM NUMBER 4 should be a fun time at the movies for today’s pre-teen audience that haven’t experienced anything better. But for those of us that have been a part of epic teenage action films, Number 4 is going to feel tired and worn out. The cast didn’t do enough to captivate the audience and the plot wasn’t developed enough to keep us interested.