A charismatic but despotic ruler. Younglings struggling to catch a foothold. A universe dictated by ruthless, arbitrary-seeming strictures. Sounds like the stuff of delicious drama, right? Well, yes and no. That's just the backstory of Full Fathom Five, the book-packaging firm that was profiled in a November 2010 New York Magazine
piece. A unique – some might argue exploitive – idea factory, Full Fathom is run by James Frey, the disgraced author of the memoir (air quotes) A Million Little Pieces
. Under the shared pseudonym Pittacus Lore, Frey co-wrote the young-adult novel I Am Number Four
with another author, who was reportedly contractually prohibited from revealing his name or publicizing his contributions and has since parted ways with the firm. That's an awful lot of intrigue – who knew tales from the publishing industry could be so edge-of-the-seat? – but all that drama takes place offscreen and is tangential to the task at hand, which is to weigh the merits of the filmed adaptation of the first book in the proposed Lorien Legacies series. A comically protracted camera zoom opens the film – one of those showboaty numbers that starts in outer space and ends on, I don't know, an ant's back. In quick succession, there's an assassination, a hectic chase through jungle brush, another slaughtering, a Jet Ski loop-de-looping in the ocean, a sexy night swim, and relocation to Ohio. I Am Number Four
doesn't even begin to start making sense until at least 20 minutes in, but as the pieces fall into place, the thinness of this particular fiction comes into clear focus. Humans have an in-the-bones hunger for fantasy, and the very best of the genre – from the minds of a L'Engle, Lucas, or Tolkien – has a way of ripening in the collective imagination. But I Am Number Four
, I'm afraid, has a quick expiration date: There's nothing here to hang on to, so doggedly banal is it in its characterization of an alien refugee on Earth – Number Four (Pettyfer) – and his efforts to first hide from his native planet's pillagers – the fish-gilled, tooth-rotty Mogadorians – and then openly wage war against them. Olyphant, as Number Four's alien-samurai minder, is reliably smirky (he’s made a career out of being the only bright spot in subpar entertainment), but his screen time is limited. Number Four
’s dramatic scenes are paced to the tempo of dough rising, and its action sequences are taged incomprehensibly, endlessly; about the only thing that seems on point here is the slo-mo shot of the leggy blond strutting away from an explosion, all insouciance. Check the credits: That move is ripped straight from producer Michael Bay’s playbook.