I AM NUMBER FOUR Pubescent aliens get superpowers. Pubescent humans? Acne. The universe is unfair.

I AM NUMBER FOUR was conceived in what Gawker dubbed "James Frey's young-adult fiction sweatshop"—Google it!—and movie rights were sold before the book was even written. A rational response to this information would be an earnest wish for Frey's calculated cash-grab to humiliatingly tank, and maybe for Oprah to yell at him again, like she did after it turned out his "memoir" A Million Little Pieces was largely fictional.

But for all the Schadenfreude Frey inspires, it has to be said: I Am Number Four is a teen movie with a reasonable amount of heart that does not openly insult the intelligence of its viewer. (John Hughes is dead. In this age of sparkly vampires, we take what we can get.) Credit for this goes to a writing team with stints on Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Marti Noxon), and a director (Disturbia's D.J. Caruso) who's created a far more grounded film than the material demands.

I Am Number Four is sheer formula—adolescent alienation made literal. John Smith (Alex Pettyfer) is a teenaged refugee from planet Lorien, one of the last of his race. He's in hiding from galactic bad guys the Mogadorians, who are bent on killing John and the eight remaining teenaged Loriens, and then taking over planet Earth. (The Mogadorians look like punk-rock Voldemorts—their only innovation is the wound-like gills on their cheeks.)

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John's puberty-onset alien superpowers arrive just in time to humiliate the unfriendly jocks at his new high school; he also falls for a standard issue Hot-Girl-with-Artsy-Side (Glee's Dianna Agron), a relationship that complicates his effort to stay clear of the Mogadorians. Plus, there are worlds to be saved, and sequels to set up.

At the end of the day, I Am Number Four doesn't transcend its genre—if you're not a fan of goofy teen movies, don't rush out and see this one. If you are, though, put it on your list, because I Am Number Four is better than it has any right to be.

SLAY Film Fest
In person at the Clinton St. Theater 10/29 & 10/30