The Story20 year old British actor Alex Pettyfer stars as Number Four, a handsome alien who, along with his mentor/protector, Henri (Timothy Olyphant), survives on Earth by hiding out and blending in. Number Four is actually one of nine young aliens from the planet Lorien who were sent to Earth when their planet was attacked and destroyed by the brutal Mogadorians. Their enemies have followed them to Earth, but for some reason must kill the nine in numerical order. As the film opens we witness the murder of Number Three, which means - you've got it - Number Four is next.
Number Four and Henri have spent their time on Earth moving from place to place in an effort to keep off the Mogadorians' radar. Their lives consist of running from any potential danger, and after Number Three dies (Number Four knows this because a tattoo is magically burned into his skin with the death of each alien), he and Henri hurriedly pack up and head to their next destination: Paradise, Ohio. Assuming the name John Smith, Number Four enrolls in the small town's only high school.
Although Henri constantly warns his young charge to not make waves, 'John' can't help but draw attention to himself due to the fact he's new, good-looking, and is obviously attracted to photography-loving ex-cheerleader and all-around good girl, Sarah (Dianna Agron). Sarah has a possessive jerk of an ex-boyfriend, Mark (Jake Abel), who's also a stud on the football team, and by making a connection with Sarah, John's set himself up as a target of bullying by Mark and his football buddies. John, trying his best to keep a low profile, doesn't initially show off his fighting skills but instead just takes what Mark dishes out (his tolerance for abuse ends after Sarah's put in danger).
John's quickly befriended by another victim of the school bullies, Sam (Callan McAuliffe), a loner who prefers reading up on aliens over interacting with his fellow students. The two hit it off, although at first Sam is totally unaware his new friend is in fact an alien. However, Sam soon figures out there's something weird about the new kid after his palms light up and he throws around the school's jocks with no more obvious effort than the rest of us would expend tossing out a bag of trash. A side note: the flashing palms and increased strength are new powers awakened almost as soon as John laid eyes on Sarah.
The Acting and Inevitable ComparisonsDreamWorks Pictures' is hoping to launch a new franchise with I Am Number Four, which is based on the first book in a series by Pittacus Lore (who's actually James Frey and Jobie Hughes). If it performs well at the box office, we could be seeing the further adventures of aliens Four through Nine in theaters in the coming years. And if so, there are lessons to be learned from this first outing. The sequel needs to put the romance on the backburner and dedicate more time to learning about Number Four and his special powers. I Am Number Four is more concerned with setting up the love story, and making sure we understand that just because Number Four is from another planet doesn't mean doesn't have to worry about dealing with the same issues as any other high school student. Sure, he's got flashlights spouting out of his palms and can toss cars around willy nilly - and there's a race of evil aliens out to kill him - but he's also the new kid at school who has a hard time fitting in. He's going through all the emotional drama of falling in love for the very first time, and he's picked on because he's different - although no one knows just how different he is to begin with. Remove the sci-fi portion of the story and this is your basic by-the-numbers high school film. But I Am Number Four is saved from being disposable high school genre fare by well executed action scenes and decent performances by the entire cast.
However, Number Four does hold its own against the popular teen vampire/werewolf film series, with Number Four's cast faring better in this rookie outing of a possible franchise than did Stewart and company in the first Twilight. Agron's Sarah is grounded and sweet (as opposed to Stewart's Bella being mopey and moody), with the Glee star delivering a fine performance as Number Four's leading lady. Pattinson had the disadvantage of needing to look like a vampire suffering from being in close proximity to a girl who drove him crazy with bloodlust while Pettyfer's able to brood and also occasionally look as though young love isn't a fatal disease. Both Pattinson's Edward and Pettyfer's John have extraordinary powers, but Pettyfer's alien acts and reacts in a more human fashion (although he's an alien) than Pattinson's sparkling vampire did in similar situations. Only time will tell if the buzz surrounding Pettyfer (he's got three films hitting theaters in 2011, including this one, and is rumored to be in the running for a couple of potentially huge young adult franchises) is warranted or if the limited emotional range on display in Number Four is all we can expect. Pattinson endured the same scrutiny and had tenfold the amount of buzz going into the first Twilight, and he's since proved he has greater depth than allowed to show in Twilight by tackling roles in indie productions (and he looks right for the part in the Water for Elephants trailer). The same could happen with Pettyfer. He's solid in Number Four, and it'll be interesting see how he transforms himself in other films.
The Bottom LineIn adapting the novel not everything made the leap from the page to the screen, but what did captures the tone - and the basics - of the book. Lost in the film adaptation are scenes of the alien planet, any real details on Number Four's backstory, and info on why the box Number Four and Henri carry with them on every move to a new town is so vitally important to their survival. These storylines didn't make the cut as the film focused more on the love story. That focus may please teen audiences but turn off sci-fi fans who've read the book. Still, Twilight comparisons and too much focus on the love story aside, I Am Number Four is a satisfyingly entertaining boy-meets-girl film with some truly incredible fight scenes and special effects. And when the film heads into the third act, the tone shifts and it becomes a wild roller coaster ride worth the price of a ticket.
I Am Number Four was directed by DJ Caruso and is rated PG-13 for PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, and for language.
Theatrical Release: February 18, 2011