Sunday, February 20, 2011

review | I Am Number Four

ALIEN HATERATION | Stop me if you’ve heard this one: Otherworldly hunk with skin that occasionally twinkles and a knack for proper distribution of styling product tries to lay low in a small town, but instead winds up in a complicated courtship with a sensitive female classmate when evil marauders of his own kind track him down and try to kill them! That’s the gist of Twilight (UGH), and — if you swap the GQ vampire for an Abercrombie alien — Twilight is very much the gist of I AM NUMBER FOUR, an equally terrible chunk of romantic-sci-fi-thriller bullshit based on a young adult novel released only six months ago. Fishy, yes? Credited to the colon-distendingly fustian pseudonym “Pittacus Lore” (DOUBLE UGH), the book was actually authored by James Frey (TRIPLE UGH) and Jobie Hughes, and it’s the debut output from a Manhattan psuedo-sweatshop comprised of recruited writers (DEPRESSED UGH) and overlorded by Frey. And oh my stars, Frey would probably arch his back and lick his lips at Number Four’s comparison to Twilight, as the main goal of his publishing endeavor seems to be to fart out all the hot new tween-sensation bestsellers, which is probably the reason that Michael Bay (OBVIOUS UGH) and Steven Spielberg (DISAPPOINTED UGH) gobbled up the movie rights when Frey and Hughes were still manuscripting. Never forget: The Twilight film series has grossed over $1.7 billion worldwide (ETERNAL UGH), and that’s just so far. There’s an exasperating article in a recent issue of New York Magazine that details all these behind-the-scenes machinations — seriously, read it and try not to vomit from your nostrils — and it’s infinitely more interesting than this muddy ejaculation of clichés that got put on paper and, later, celluloid.

Anyway, chiseled slab of handsome blandness Alex Pettyfer — appropriate stage-name anagram: E.A. Pretty Flex — plays the aforementioned glowy, moussed Number Four, one of nine refugees from the planet Lorien who are hiding out on Earth for reasons the movie really can’t be bothered to get into right now, but thanks for your interest. Number Four is on the run from a group of murderous extraterrestrial bounty hunters from the planet Mogador, and if you’re worried about confusing all these alien races, fear not: The Mogadorians are the ones who don’t look like they stepped off the runway at Milan Modeling Academy. Four’s guardian and traveling buddy is Henri (Justified’s Timothy Olyphant, typically wonderful, wasted here), about whom Number Four abruptly narrates: “People think he’s my father, but he’s not. He’s a warrior from my planet assigned to keep me alive.” Henri issues stern directives like: “We should get goin’. Mogadorians might’ve already picked up our scent,” and he and Number Four leave their Florida beach shack to relocate to a CW teen drama in Ohio, where Number Four enrolls in high school — um, so much for anonymity — and immediately starts doing everything you’d expect from this type of film. He befriends the class geek (Callan McAuliffe), runs afoul of the class bully (Jake Abel), and starts making goo-goo eyes at Sarah (Glee’s Diana Agron), the class artistic hottie. She creates these highly intricate scrapbook diaries in which she’s pasted her self-portrait over a map of Turkey, so you know she’s got, like, a beautiful soul. Number Four goes passionately bonkers for Sarah after a day or two. Henri helpfully explains: “We don’t love like the humans. With us, it’s forever.” Oh. Okay.

It’s around this time that the movie transitions from derivative tedium to unacceptable garbage. Number Four learns he can shoot sizzling beams of light from his palms, which is the last superpower a teenage boy needs, nyuk nyuk nyuk. The Mogadorians hire a pair of middle-aged conspiracy-theorist bloggers to kidnap Henri, because... wait, what? Number Six (The Sorcerer’s Apprentice’s Teresa Palmer) shows up to join the fight — Lorien refugees can only be eliminated by the Mogadorians in Hindu-Arabic numerical order, DUH — and screams at Number Four: “HIT ME WITH YOUR LUMIN! I NEED TO POWER UP!”; Number Four somehow knows what this means despite meeting Number Six only eight minutes prior. And then the school football field explodes, and so did my brain. If I didn’t know I Am Number Four was adapted — albeit questionably — from a book, I’d allege that its grubby storytelling and half-baked mythology are the net result of a focus group populated by sugarbuzzed 10-year-olds. (“‘Make Number Four’s pet beagle turn into a baby Cloverfield monster’? Well, sure! Why not!”) The film ends with the threat of a sequel, naturally, as Number Four and Number Six hit the road to find Number Five, Number Seven, Number Eight and Number Nine. I made number two in my boxer briefs just thinking about it. D- —Jasper

Rating: PG-13. Running time: 114 minutes.

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