“I am Number Four” — and I am awful

A tasty young couple and some sneering black-clad aliens can't rescue James Frey's "Twilight" rip-off

Topics: I Am Number Four, Twilight, James Frey, Movies,

"I am Number Four" -- and I am awfulAlex Pettyfer and Teresa Palmer in "I Am Number Four"

If you feel like a substandard knockoff “Twilight” movie is far better than no “Twilight” movie at all — well, first of all, there is no mockery or judgment here. This is a safe space. You can share with us. The disease is much, much bigger than you are. We get it. Yes, I think a Higher Power could help you, but that choice is yours. You understand, or at least your rational mind does, that “I Am Number Four” is an ultra-expedited movie-type product adapted from the first volume of “Lorien Legacies,” the utterly cynical young-adult alien franchise created by James Frey, he of the not-entirely-truthful memoir. The distance between this movie and anybody who actually cares — about it or anything else, frankly — is measured in light-years and filled with dark matter, like the distance between galaxies.

But if you’re simply not going to be able to resist this ludicrous yarn about young extraterrestrial hotties on the run, or the spectacle of model-rific wannabe celebrities simulating an implausible American teen romance, then I am here to tell you that I sat through all of “I Am Number Four” and it was boring and silly but not atrociously bad. No, that’s much too glowing; allow me to back up and rephrase. It is atrociously bad, basically. But the thoroughgoing pointlessness of the whole enterprise is somewhat mitigated by the fact that once our human and semi-human heroes finally get to some high-powered shootouts with the trench-coated, black-hatted alien hunters, director D.J. Caruso (“Disturbia”) handles them with unexpected brio. That, plus there’s a badass Australian chick who shows up late, sort of a young Nicole Kidman type in leather pants. What she has to do with the story I’m not sure, but that’s never a bad idea.

When first we meet brawny, lantern-jawed Number Four, aka John Smith (played by Alex Pettyfer, a 20-year-old English cover boy), he is preparing to do some night swimmin’ off a Florida beach with a lithe young lady of his acquaintance who isn’t particularly wearing clothes. She apparently finds it a vibe-killer when John starts to glow radioactively and emit blue-white LED-style light from his palms, and flees the scene. (No, they aren’t doing that at the time. You and your mind!) So that’s when John and his oddly young, neatly coiffed pseudo-dad, Henri (Timothy Olyphant), have to pack up the truck and head out for the heartland burg of Paradise, Ohio, where further adventures will of course ensue. (Still looking for your cultural-studies dissertation topic? OK, here: What’s up with the weird sexualization of father figures in tween-oriented fantasy?)

While they’re on the road, John gives us the blah-blah: He is the fourth in a series of nine Whatever-the-Heckian refugees from the planet Hooble-de-Hoo, who are being hunted down in order by the evil Whumpsamacallums, who sneer and wear black and look vaguely like Lord Voldemort and seem to be having more fun than anybody else in the story. OK, no, those aren’t the real names, but they might as effing well be, since Frey and co-author Jobie Hughes (who write under the pseudonym Pittacus Lore) just picked their proper nouns out of the fair-use grab bag. John’s home planet is called Lorien, a shameless, oughta-be-illegal J.R.R. Tolkien rip-off, while the wisecracking bad guys are from Mogador, which in our world is actually a city in Morocco. Oh, and John has a shape-shifting lizard-puppy creature called Bernie Kosar, which is sort of funny except that if you get the reference you are, like me, much too old for this entire franchise.

I digress, but that’s because there’s so little to say. Until the shooting started, I kept slipping off the surface of the movie, like a man clinging to the outside of an inflated balloon. John and Henri hit Paradise vowing to lie low, but John immediately hits it off with Sarah (Dianna Agron), a lovely blond girl who is of course utterly unconvincing as the cheerleader-turned-photographer social outcast she’s supposed to be. Agron keeps the top button of her cute little pastel cardigans buttoned, and if that’s not symbolic I’m handing in my membership card to the International Semiotics Union right now. (Yes, yes, yes, I know, yes: Pettyfer and Agron are now an off-screen couple as well. But why do I know that?) John becomes enmeshed in an uninteresting romantic triangle with Sarah and Mark (Jake Abel), her arrogant football-star ex, and comes to the aid of science nerd Sam (Callan McAuliffe), who looks suspiciously like a teenage TV star pretending to be a science nerd.

Then again, nobody in this cast shows the slightest ability or inclination to go beyond presentational, faux-sincere, prime-time-soap-style acting, except for Canadian comedian Kevin Durand, who turns a few lines as the malicious leader of a Mogadorian commando team into the movie’s most enjoyable moments. Unlike everybody else in the movie, he doesn’t have to wander around in the frame waiting for the MOR teen pop on the soundtrack to stop so he can say something meaningful. He just wants to kill some adorable young people, and I can’t say I blame him. Caruso and his team of screenwriters (Alfred Gough, Miles Millar and Marti Noxon) never provide enough back story or drama to make us care about Lorien and Mogador or John and Sarah or Number Four and Number Six (that would be the Aussie hellcat). Which leads us to the one and only point of similarity anyone will ever note between this movie and John Milton’s “Paradise Lost”: In both, you kind of want the bad guy to win.

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows



Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>