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'I Am Number Four' Movie Review

About.com Rating 3.5 Star Rating

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I Am Number Four Movie Review

Alex Pettyfer as Number Four in 'I Am Number Four'

© DreamWorks Pictures
Aliens hiding out on Earth isn't a new concept, but with the sci-fi adventure I Am Number Four it at least feels like something we haven't seen done to death in films dozens of times before. The DreamWorks Pictures PG-13 rated tale of a hunky teen alien trying to fit in at a small town high school benefits from a fine young cast, thrilling action scenes, and a beagle named Bernie Kosar. More entertaining than the romance-heavy commercials make it out to be, I Am Number Four is geared toward the teen crowd but doesn't totally alienate adult sci-fi fans.

The Story

20 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.

Dianna Agron as Sarah in 'I Am Number Four'

Dianna Agron as Sarah in 'I Am Number Four'

© DreamWorks Pictures
Soon, John - against all of Henri's explicit directions - has his first girlfriend, his first true guy friend (who's privy to the truth), and enemies at the school who'd like nothing better than to send John back to wherever it is he came from. Meanwhile, he and Henri remain vigilant, searching for any signs the Mogadorians (7' tall, tattooed, spike-toothed humanoid type creatures clad in black leather trench coats) have discovered their whereabouts. But with all the hoopla over his arrival at school, and Sarah's love of photography, John's picture soon hits the internet. The Mogadorians are savvy enough to track him down, setting up an epic showdown in which Number Four is joined by his pet beagle and a kick-ass, super-powered Number Six (Teresa Palmer) who rides in on a souped up motorcycle to try and save the day.

The Acting and Inevitable Comparisons

DreamWorks 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.

And speaking of high school films, I Am Number Four's similarities to Twilight can't be ignored, even if in making the comparison it's giving Twilight too much credit. Twilight obviously didn't invent the 'outsider who tries to fit in while falling in love for the first time' story, and it doesn't own the rights to using that plotline. That said, it is possible - because the emphasis has been placed on the love story - to substitute out Twilight's sparkling vampires for I Am Number Four's hunky teen alien. The films have a lot in common, with I Am Number Four's Pettyfer's brooding presence subbing for Robert Pattinson's, and Dianna Agron's good girl, Sarah, who doesn't want to be just another mindless member of a high school clique, taking over for Kristen Stewart's Bella. Even Number Four's small town setting has the same vibe as Twilight's. I Am Number Four is going to be considered an alien clone of Twilight, even if the similarities weren't intentional.

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.

Teresa Palmer as Number Six in 'I Am Number Four'

Teresa Palmer as Number Six in 'I Am Number Four'

© DreamWorks Pictures
Aussie Callan McAuliffe does well as the alien-obsessed Sam, the ever-reliable Timothy Olyphant is impressive as Number Four's mentor, and Jake Abel makes for a believable high school jock/bully, but the stand-out of the supporting cast is, hands down, Teresa Palmer. Clad in leather, strapped with guns, and riding in to save everyone on a red Ducati, Palmer's Number Six is sexy and dangerous. Palmer darts in and out of the film while Pettyfer and Agron's love story takes center stage, but when the film heads toward its finale and the big showdown at the high school, Palmer plays second fiddle to no one. Palmer's Number Six is every female action hero rolled into one and woe be to anyone (human or alien) who stands in her way. If there's a sequel, I hope Palmer's Number Six is promoted to co-starring status as she's the sort of tough female character we need more of. Agron's Sarah may have the support of the romantics among us, but for my money it's Palmer's Number Six that delivers for the women.

The Bottom Line

In 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.

GRADE: B

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

This review is based on a screening provided by the studio. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.

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