Review: 'I Am Number Four'

(Two stars)

Sci-fi thrills and teen romance collide in this muddled adventure flick from mega-producer Michael Bay ("Transformers"). Although "Four" boasts some impressive visual effects and plenty of fast-paced action, the silly plot and teen-angst undertones make the film feel like "X-Files" for high-schoolers.

Based on the youth-geared novel by Pittacus Lore, "Four" follows the pubescent-fantasy fad that "Harry Potter" sparked and "Twilight" exacerbated. These adolescent-friendly adaptations seem to hit on every fantastical theme imaginable: witches and wizards ("Harry Potter"), vampires and werewolves ("Twilight"), dragons ("Eragon"), mythology ("Percy Jackson & the Olympians") and now aliens ("I Am Number Four").

It's only a matter of time before ghosts, mermaids and zombies get the same treatment.

John Smith (relative newcomer Alex Pettyfer) isn't your average American teenager. He is an alien -- one of the few survivors from a distant planet that was destroyed by a violent race of extraterrestrials called Mogadorians. John and his guardian, Henri (Timothy Olyphant), maintain a low profile and travel from town to town in hopes of evading the Mogadorians that are hunting down and killing John's kind. Three are already dead, and (you guessed it) he's fourth on the list.

John longs to be normal and starts attending high school in Paradise, Ohio, where he meets attractive photographer Sarah (Dianna Agron). The chemistry between John and Sarah is undeniable, and John soon convinces himself to stay near her despite the growing threat posed by the Mogadorians and their vicious leader (the underappreciated Kevin Durand). John also begins to develop impressive powers and turns to help from bullied school geek Sam (Callan McAuliffe) and a fiercely loyal pet pooch.

As John learns more about his abilities and the other eight members of his powerful tribe, the Mogadorians get ever closer to wiping out John and his kin for good.

Pettyfer performs well in the leading role, at once sympathetic and tough. He comes across a bit like Channing Tatum: a good-looking, charismatic performer with decent (if not impressive) thespian skills. Olyphant is a scene-stealer, per usual, and Durand is gruesomely fascinating as the savage Mogadorian commander. Pettyfer and Agron make a good match, and Australian actress Teresa Palmer is entertaining as the fierce and sarcastic Number 6.

The mutant-like Mogadorians sway between intimidating and goofy. In one scene they rip a football field to shreds with blaster rifles, and in another they wear makeup to inconspicuously buy a heap of chickens from a grocery store (the chickens are for a massive carnivorous creature). There's something unintentionally comical about freakish aliens destroying public property with wanton abandon, yet feeling the need to pay in full at the area supermarket.

The film leaves too many questions by the time the end credits roll. Perhaps the filmmakers are hoping "Four" makes enough money to warrant a sequel, but if it doesn't they've done a disservice to the viewer by producing an unfinished product. Also, the Apple iPhone makes far too many appearances, as John seems to get an endless string of text messages (apparently even aliens need the latest Silicon Valley gadgetry). Is it an action/adventure or merely a very expensive iPhone commercial? Only the viewer can decide.

"Four" should satisfy, if not enthrall, younger viewers. Until the next teen actioner comes along, that is.

Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, and for brief language. 1 hour, 50 minutes.

— Tyler Hanley

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Short story writers wanted!

The 33rd Annual Palo Alto Weekly Short Story Contest is now accepting entries for Adult, Young Adult (15-17) and Teen (12-14) categories. Send us your short story (2,500 words or less) and entry form by March 29. First, Second and Third Place prizes awarded in each category.

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