Feb 21 2011 12:18pm

Review: I Am Number Four

I Am Number Four

Evaluating just how bad a truly terrible movie is can be a bit difficult. In the case of I Am Number Four, I would have qualified my assertion that this is one of the most irredeemably stupid and inept movies I’ve ever seen by noting that it was a movie aimed at teenagers and I’m over 30, thus raising the possibility that it’s something I simply don’t get, were it not for the fact that I watched the movie in a packed theater full of teenagers, and when the opening credits rolled, so did every eye in the house. The theater groaned as one.

Usually, even the very worst movies have some memorable element, some moment where however briefly, the movie was enjoyable. The worst of all are bad in such strange and original ways—like the work of Ed Wood or Tommy Wiseau—that they’re actually even more enjoyable than a lot of good movies. I Am Number Four is the worst of all possible worlds, the catastrophic train wreck I feared when reviewing its trailer, a movie that is badly made, appallingly written, and worst of all, boring.

It doesn’t want for action. Protagonist John Smith (Alex Pettyfer) finds light shooting out his hands almost every other scene, usually while jumping superhuman distances through the air, beating up several bad guys at once, and telekinetically tossing cop cars around. An attractive Australian woman who dresses in leather (Teresa Palmer) blows up a building and walks, attractively, toward the camera in slow motion...and yet it’s just like, “Oh, wow, an explosion, yawn.” The climax features several large creatures snarling and having a football field-destroying alien wrestling match, and even THAT is boring.

The fault of this can be laid squarely at the feet of the writers. (I won’t mention any of them by name, out of generosity.) The premise of the movie is that John Smith is one of nine alien kids from a planet called Lorien, which was destroyed by a malevolent, gilled race of baddies called the Mogadorians who have followed the nine alien kids to Earth (where they all went, apparently) and are killing them one by one, in numerical order (the protagonist is, in case we’ve forgotten, Number Four). Rather than reveal this through narrative, John Smith tells us all this information in a voice-over about five minutes into the movie. With nothing to discover, the audience is left sitting there waiting for something else to blow up.

And, of course, to see if anything will happen the entire movie with a shred of intelligence to it. For one glaring example, John Smith’s alien protector, Henri (Tim Olyphant), has a computer setup sophisticated enough that if John Smith—who’s supposed to be hiding so the Mogadorians can’t find him—has a photo taken of him and uploaded to the internet, he can delete it within seconds. He is, also, let us remember, an alien. How then, is he vexed by the firewall of two random nerds in Indiana with a conspiracy theory website? Aliens, it is clear, are terrible at IT. (They haven’t learned a thing from when Jeff Goldblum hacked the mothership with a MacBook in Independence Day.) Kind of makes you wonder how they got all the way across the universe to Earth in the first place....

I ended up getting rather angry at how stupid I Am Number Four was. This is not because I went in expecting a masterpiece. I’ve always tried—especially now that I’m a semi-pro critic—to go into a movie emotionally neutral and allow the movie to make its case for itself. But I Am Number Four lost me within minutes. Between the shoddy special effects, the naked attempts to market its glowing weapons as toys, and the incessant, fetishistically composed shots of iPhones, I Am Number Four would have been irritating even if it hadn’t been the worst-written studio picture in my lifetime. (Yes, its script is worse than Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.) This is a movie that everyone involved should let pass out of the public eye, and then subtly amend their resumes to pretend that it never existed. It will be profitable enough that it won’t end any careers, but this movie should not be spoken of in polite society. Do not speak of it to me again. I will react impolitely.  

Danny Bowes is a playwright, filmmaker and blogger. He is also a contributor to and

John Ginsberg-Stevens
1. eruditeogre
Thank you for caring about movies. I wish people would read reviews like this one and think before they go. This horror is not doing as well as expected, but obviously (given it's "B+" Cinemascope rating) it will likely spawn more horrorlings.
Paul Weimer
2. PrinceJvstin
I was connived into seeing this on Saturday.

A couple of hours I will never get back. I wanted to see The Eagle or Unknown instead...not that those seem to be high cinema, either.
Steven Halter
3. stevenhalter
It was snowing here all weekend and I didn't want to go out, so I guess bad weather had a use.
It's too bad the content is messed up as the previews looked kind of interesting.
4. Edith44
The books was so awful I couldn't imagine the movie would be worse. Apparently, it is.
KJ Mulder
5. Crusader
Darn, and there I was hoping that the movie would in fact be an improvement on the atrocious book.
6. slanagat
Crusader @ 5: And here I was hoping that the movie would in fact be about Tom Baker (and his scarf). Oh well.
KJ Mulder
7. Crusader
Ha ha. Now THAT would have been an interesting plot to follow! ;)
Marc Rowen
8. greatfolded
Went to see the movie this weekend with the family, kids pick. Hadn't heard of the book or movie before the wife told me where we were going. Will lend my opinion also that it's not worth seeing, although my kids did somewhat enjoy it (11 and 9).

Too bad. I like Tim Olyphant in general. It also seemed like it could have potentially been interesting. They certainly left the door open for sequels. Hopefully the kids will grow out of wanting to see them by the time they're released. Thanks for the review.
Adam Shaeffer
9. ashaef
To say that its script is worse than Tranformers 2, is saying something. That is the single most poortly written movie I have ever seen and find it hard to imagine anything more awful than that.

Wasn't planning on seeing I Am Number Four, but now perhaps I'll recommend others stay away from it too . . .
10. Michael M. Jones
Honestly, ever since I learned that I Am Number Four is a product of James Frey's appalling writer sweatshop, I've steered far clear of the book and anything related to it.  As much as I feel for the writers involved, I don't want to help contribute to Frey's success and bank account.    Thus, I'm perversely glad to read a review as entertainingly negative as this.  (Though now I fear for the people who flock to such train wrecks!)
12. tindomiel
If you haven't yet, check out Ebert's review of it. He has a similar viewpoint.
13. jim162065
I think the movie was ok, some of the acting was a bit flat, but over all i thought was a watchable movie.
14. highwayman
I saw the movie on Friday without knowing anything about it at all save for downloading the trailer on the day I went to see I Am Number 4. To me it was an average movie with a stock story and stock characters, though the lead villain I liked alot: he had great punk style and a sense of humour. As bad as he was, his character stood out. I wish he wasn't killed off.

Did I enjoy the movie? Yes. Will it be a classic --even within the sci-fi & fantasy community? I very much doubt it. It's very forgetable. Unlike Avatar, also with stock story and characters, this movie has no other asset to redeem it: no visuals, no great special effects, no distinctive production value of any kind save for the villains and the lead villain in particular.

It's not the worst movie I've ever seen, but it is forgetable. Still, it was fun seeing it.
Alex Brown
15. AlexBrown
On sort of a side note, I've never understood how aliens can be so sophisticated that they can travel billions of lightyears (and all the prep work/space/time/travel/sustainability/whatnot that goes into it) and basically terraform their bodies to make them compatible with life on earth, yet they can be taken down by Jeff Goldblum's magical computer virus or, I dunno, fraking water. Ugh. Makes my brain hurt.
17. highwayman
Please realize this, Mr. Milo1313: Independence Day was a film that knew it was B-grade entertainment and chose to wallow in it to most humourous effect. It pretended no higher delusions. The makers of the movie knew what the audience wanted, gave it to them in spades, and added humour too it --much to the fun satisfaction of many.

So what if the story was bad? We, the audience, got to cheer and be obnoxious at all the clichéed points -both good & bad. That was the real fun of the movie.

I still remember the wild cheering in the theatre as the aliens began destroying civilization. The cheering got particularly loud when the White House (in the movie --that is) got blown up.
18. Nathaniel Wilston
Yo this was a great movie! I mean it wasn't nearly as good as the books but that's because the books are the best ever! They are my favorite books ever! Edith44 you have no idea what you're talking about! I have read and re read all the books 4 times because they are so good!

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