Review: Number Four is one of nine children sent to Earth from the planet Lorien in an effort to save the species after it has been invaded by Mogadorians. Each child is also accompanied by a guardian, in Number Four's case, a man named Henri. The Mogs have learned of this deception and have sent a team to Earth to terminate the nine children. But, for reasons not explained — or if they were, I missed it — the children can only be killed in order. The film opens with the murder of Number Three.
In an age of YouTube and uploaded images, it is Henri's primary responsibility to keep Number Four unseen and unheard. But Number Four, who goes by the name Daniel Jones at first, is out and about and generally enjoying life in southern Florida. And he's also just beginning to learn of his supernatural powers. When he makes the news, Henri packs everything up and moves him to Paradise, Ohio, renaming him John Smith in the process. Number Four simply wants to be like any other teenager, and insists on attending high school, where he meets Sam Cooke, the resident nerd. Number Four is an outsider himself, and the two find they have something in common: fending off the popular jocks. But it turns out they also share a connection to the extraterrestrial, Sam's father having gone missing in central America after seeking evidence of aliens on Earth. It wouldn't be a teen sci-fi drama without Number Four also meeting a girl, falling in love, saving her from rampaging creatures, etc. etc. etc., but this is largely just filler material and of no consequence to the story.
I'll start by saying Alex Pettyfer is simply awful in the role of Number Four. He has no screen presence, his acting — and I'm being charitable in calling it that — is stilted and lifeless, and half the time it seems he's forgotten his lines and is looking off camera at cue cards. Everyone else looks brilliant by comparison, and in some cases they are. Timothy Olyphant has a small part, but the screen crackles with tension when he's present. Callan McAuliffe as Sam is everything Pettyfer isn't, bringing a subtle strength and wisdom to an intentionally developed weak character. I don't know if there will be a sequel or not — I Am Number Four apparently has done decent business so far, and there's clearly a hint at the end that there may be — but if so, I hope the producers can figure out a way to replace Pettyfer ... or maybe leave his character out entirely.
There are no surprises in the overall storyline, and most viewers can pretty much predict exactly what's going to happen next. Still, I was buying in to it for the first hour or so since the plot was story-, and to a somewhat lesser extent, character-driven. But then the special effects dominated action sequences start, and rather than pumping up the film, they paradoxically bring it down. I haven't read the book on which this film is based, but I would have preferred a more intellectual, cat-and-mouse approach to the stand-off between Number Four and his pursuers. And there seems to be no logical reason why Number Six shows up when she does — except the second book in the series is titled The Power of Six, which could refer to Number Six herself or could refer to the collective power of the remaining six children — other than as a transitional character between this film and the next (if there is a next).
I didn't totally dislike I Am Number Four but it's clear that with a few minor changes this could have been a much, much better film.