Review in a Hurry: It's got a clever premise—hunky teen aliens who can only be killed in a sequential order—but Four spends too much time in Smallville mode, with Four (Alex Pettyfer) living in Ohio and crushing on some cheerleader from Glee (Dianna Agron).
Once the action (and CGI) goes into overdrive, the wait is (mostly) worth it.
The Bigger Picture: Born on the planet
Krypton Lorien, "John Smith" (Pettyfer) is a typical adolescent trying to live off the grid. His mentor (Timothy Olyphant) keeps a close eye on him, but John is tired of moving from town to town every time "the visions" happen.
John is one of nine survivors who are being hunted down in numerical order. (We never find out why this is, though—wait for the sequel?) As the film begins, Three has been offed. And uh oh, John is number Four!
Fortunately, each of the nine have special powers that have been passed down from their parents. Hot on his (and presumably numbers Five thru Nine) trail are the black-cloaked Mogadorians, another alien race. We can tell they're Team Evil because they sport tribal tattoos and breathe with gills.
So far, so good—right? But a lot of the running time is not about Four's battle with the Mogads. He's also a hot teen so he needs to do the whole go to school, fall in love, become BFFs with a UFO conspiracy outcast and take out the main bully thing.
The young cast of twentysomethings posing as teens are up to the task of playing The CW way of balancing high school life with the extraordinary. It just feels so ho-hum. Really? Yet another bully with rage issues? One of the writers is Marti Noxon a Buffy alum, which might be why the dialogue works but also why it feels like a TV episode.
I Am Number Four is part of The Lorien Legacies book series by Pittacus Lore (actually a pseudonym for Million Little Pieces author James Frey and Jobie Hughes). Perhaps because of the young readers' mindset, characters make great proclamations like, "This is only the beginning" or "I've never met a guy like you!"
We wish director D.J. Caruso could have found a tone that didn't feel so familiar. Four, after all, is an alien. Yes, new gal Sarah (Agron) is cute as a button and the duo have good chemistry but frankly, this has been done over and over in other (better) films and TV shows.
On the plus side, Caruso (Eagle Eye) has a knack for these types of stories: young men who want to settle down with a nice gal but must escape and unravel the mysteries of those who would take him down. He has a gift for getting performances from his actors that keeps us invested even when the script is by the numbers.
Things pick up considerably when Four meets the equally attractive Six (Teresa Palmer). The battle against those gilled villains finally begins! Complete with huge beasties! There's some great fight scenes, particularly the way Four and Six use their unique abilities. It's a lot like how a videogame gets replay value out of different character classes (Fire, Ice, etc). In short, Six's force field beats all.
So maybe there is reason to be excited for Film Number Two.
The 180—a Second Opinion: Refreshingly, the film uses music that actual teens might listen to, including The Black Keys and The XX. Angsty teen aliens need to jam, too.