Movie News & Reviews

'I Am Number Four': Teen hunks, hotties and angst, and not one vampire

They're young, they're darned attractive, their hands glow an eerie neon blue when they're in trouble, and they're in trouble a lot because they're being hunted.

They have superhuman strength, great hair and lips, and wardrobes to die for.

And in I Am Number Four, they're not vampires. Thank heavens.

Brit hunk Alex Pettyfer took an earlier shot at a franchise (Alex Rider: Stormbreaker didn't work out), but he has grown into a solid and interesting lead around whom to build this potential sci-fi movie series.

He plays John, who is named Daniel when we first meet him. He's one of the nine "gifted" children rescued from their planet, which was overrun by the same beastly boys who are hunting him to this day.

The nine were hidden on Earth, with protectors. Daniel's is named Henry (Timothy Olyphant, quite good). When their cover is blown in sunny surfside Florida, they flee.

"This is the part of my life I hate the most," Daniel narrates. "The running."

They slip into Paradise, Ohio, where Daniel becomes "John Smith." Despite Henry's protests, John refuses to lie low. He goes to high school. He falls for the hot photographer Sarah (Dianna Agron of TV's Glee). He runs afoul of her bully-jock ex-boyfriend (Jake Abel).

And John finds a kindred spirit, the kid everybody teasingly calls "Spock" but whose real name is Sam (Callan McAuliffe of Flipped). Sam thinks his dad was abducted by aliens, so he and John have a lot to talk about.

Director D.J. Caruso (Disturbia) knows his action beats, and he stages some fierce fights in the third act. There are ray guns, alien torture balls and reptilian tracking dogs, beasties that the assassination squad has at its disposal. The kids are armed with neon-tipped daggers. Caruso gives the Jobie Hughes/James Frey source novel as many flashy bells and whistles as he can in bringing this tale to the screen.

But what works best are the high school moments: kids enforcing or trying to escape the social order; "puppy love" rearing its head.

Olyphant gives his father figure a wild-eyed edge. And I love the way Teresa Palmer is brought in as a super-cool, super-deadly Aussie blonde who is on John's trail, too.

As action films aimed at this audience go, Number Four falls midway between Percy Jackson and the Olympians and Twilight — edgier than Jackson, mockingly self-aware, but without the white-hot sexual tension of the vampire movies. And the subtext, that you shouldn't waste your teen years on stupid risks because you're needed "for a higher purpose," makes this a franchise I won't mind seeing progress to a second movie.

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