Great, another Chosen One. The action tale "I Am Number Four" is mostly familiar stuff, presenting the latest teen outsider coming into possession of his latent superpowers just in time to battle evil forces intent on world chaos.
The movie's title character is no Superman or Spider-Man or even Buffy the Vampire Slayer. And while the filmmakers manage some entertaining fight sequences, they offer a standard-issue gang of heroes backed by a vague, unoriginal mythology about human-looking aliens finding refuge on Earth after their planet is destroyed.
One character notes that his upbringing was like an endless episode of "The X-Files," but even weak installments of that show had more creepy chills and clever twists than "Number Four."
Directed by D.J. Caruso ("Eagle Eye," "Disturbia") from Pitticus Lore's novel for teens, the movie has a simple — almost simple-minded — premise: Nasty raiders called the Mogadorians destroyed the planet Lorien, whose only survivors are nine special youths dispatched to hide out on Earth, each protected by a guardian.
Known by numbers, the nine eventually will develop super speed, strength and other abilities to fight the Mogadorians, whose henchmen are hunting them down on Earth in preparation for an invasion of our little rock.
As the action opens, the Mogadorians have finished off Numbers One, Two and Three and now are searching for, that's right, Number Four (Alex Pettyfer), a sun-bronzed youth who looks more like a refugee from Mount Olympus than some alien planet.
Number Four has spent his upbringing on the run with his guardian, Henri (Timothy Olyphant), who uproots his ward at the slightest hint that the bad guys might catch their scent.
Just now, Number Four has assumed a new identity, John Smith, moved to Paradise, Ohio, and enrolled at a new high school, where he has a pretty predictable run of encounters for superheroes in waiting. He falls for beautiful classmate Sarah (Dianna Agron), makes an enemy out of the school bully (Jake Abel) and lands a sidekick in a nerdy UFO believer (Callan McAuliffe).
As John struggles to have some shred of a human upbringing, the filmmakers intercut mostly uninvolving moments of a tough mystery babe (Teresa Palmer) and a band of the homely, savage Mogadorians closing in on Number Four.
None of this feels remotely original, which is not too surprising given the screenwriting unit that adapted the novel — Alfred Gough and Miles Millar, a writing-producing team whose credits include "Smallville" and "Spider-Man 2," and Marti Noxon, a writer-producer for "Buffy the Vampire Slayer."
The relationships, interaction and occasional wisecracking of "I Am Number Four" play like lukewarm leftovers of those young superhero sagas.
Pettyfer does his studly duty well enough, though, making John a likable if bland Superman surrogate and sharing some wry moments with Olyphant.
Agron is stuck in a more somber twist on her role in TV's "Glee," playing another super-lovely, supercool kid suddenly lumped in with the geek squad. Her character is sweet and smart but reserved to the point of stoicism, making it hard to believe in the passionate sparks supposedly flying around John and Sarah.
Kevin Durand livens up the movie as leader of the Mogadorian goon patrol. They're basically aliens who look and behave like Neanderthals, but Durand brings a touch of gleeful sadism and warped humor to the hunt.
The movie is set up as the start of a potential franchise for Pettyfer, who had been groomed for sequel work in his mid-teens with the title role of the spy caper "Alex Ryder: Operation Stormbreaker," a box-office flop.
Pettyfer may have better luck with "Number Four," whose explosive finale could leave action fans willing to sit through a sequel. And Pettyfer has a shot at advancing in the teen-heartthrob ranks, particularly with a starring role opposite Vanessa Hudgens in the "Beauty and the Beast" tale "Beastly" hitting theaters just weeks later.
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