Number 4 (Pettyfer) is one of nine young Loriens born with special powers to protect their home planet from the evil Mogadorians. But the planet was destroyed before ‘The Nine’ had time to harness their powers, so their ‘protectors’ smuggled them away and scattered them across the planet Earth to await the day when their powers would mature. Oh… they are also protected by a charm that means they can only be killed in numerical order. Some years later, Number 4 is enjoying life as an all-American teen on an endless ‘Spring Break’ loop of jet skiing and girl canoodling. But the apple cart is upset by news that Number 3 has been killed (which means Number 4 is next… because 4, in case you weren’t aware, is directly after 3).
Number 4 and his protector, Henri (Olyphant), flee to a provincial town in Ohio and change their identities to buy some time. Now called John Smith, Number 4 enrols at the nearest High School where he: (a) falls in love with Sarah (Agron), a cool girl who looks like a cheerleader but is actually very quiet and mysterious and likes photography; (b) begins an ongoing school boy stag fight with Mark, the school quarterback whose Pop also happens to be the local sheriff; and (c) befriends Sam, the school nerd, because John is far too special for trivial high school stereotypes. As John falls more deeply in love with Sarah, and becomes more desperate to live the Norman Rockwell American life, his powers become stronger and stronger. The Mogadorians eventually track him down, but with the help of his new friends (it turns out the geek is actually very brave and the jock is a good guy at heart) John is finally ready to do battle with his antagonists.
This film has two lucrative built-in demographics – teenagers who read the bestselling book, and teenagers who love/want to be Alex Pettyfer or Glee bad girl Dianna Agron – and it is clear that Dreamworks and D.J. Caruso have no intention of attracting a wider audience than this. If they had challenged themselves they might have found room for some sort of originality – a twist perhaps, or a few moments of tongue-in-cheek humour. There is not one moment in this film that astounds the senses, tickles the solar plexus, or surprises our expectations. We know the nerd and the jock will come good in the heat of battle; we know the mysterious blonde girl that is searching for Number 4 will turn out to be his saviour; and we know that he will fall deeply in love but then sacrifice his own happiness for the good of the planet. At least when Michael Bay, a producer on this project, directs a film there is something laughable about his grunting, maniacal action-madness. This film doesn’t even have the cojones to compete with Bay; it is happy to brand itself as some slightly wet ‘Twilight for boys… with the girl from Glee in it”.
A final note on the film’s shimmering young star, Alex Pettyfer. In recent years, lovelorn teens have had little to fantasise over beyond a disfigured flock of simpering geeks (Shia LeBouf) and gangly wimps (R-Patz); but Pettyfer channels the spirit of Tom Cruise in his clean-cut, tousle-haired, bronze mannequin performance. There is little risk of this dashing youngster wasting any time on the new wave of hipster chic – moving to a mews house in Hoxton and dressing to the nines in vintage cable-knit sweaters and thick-framed Ray-Bans to hide the effects of a three day ketamine binge. Barely out of his teens, Pettyfer has already escaped to the cultural void of Beverly Hills, dining with Michael Bay at Nobu, one assumes, and riding a gleaming Japanese motorbike around the Hollywood Hills to let off steam between gym ses sions. Late-80s action hero purism has lay dormant for too long, but it is gloriously resurrected in Pettyfer’s homoerotic dimpled grin and desperate “smouldering puppy” stare.