Alex Pettyfer, complete with ridiculously chiselled cheekbones, is a survivor of an alien race – one of nine sent to Earth in the hope they could save their species later on. Sadly, alien hunters are now tracking down the nine, and have already killed the first three in numerical order, leaving Pettyfer as the eponymous Number Four.
Along with Henri (Timothy Olyphant), his warrior father figure, he moves from place to place, hiding from the hunters and setting up a new life as a far too handsome mysterious and intelligent teenager named John Smith. Embedding himself in a new home, he joins the local high school, and becomes the love interest of the rather pretty Sarah (Dianna Agron). He also becomes the target of sarcastic bullies (led by Jake Abel), and befriends a science nerd called Sam (Callan McAuliffe). Things are looking up, until John’s face ends up on the Internet.
John navigates the clichéd routines of school life and his newly developing powers, and we discover more about Sarah (quietly ambitious, misunderstood and artistic), and Sam (lonely and seeking his lost father). Thankfully, Henri is on hand to explain all these things to John (and the audience).
Meanwhile, the hunters hunt, and another of John’s kind seeks him out in order to fight back. Thankfully, he’s developing some nifty powers and is incredibly athletic, so he’s going to have no problem doing damage when the time comes.
Drawn closer to Sarah, seeing the perfect family life that she has, Smith suffers at the hands of bullies for being new, and for being seen with Sarah, while discovering the truth about his new friend and sharing his secret in turn. We find out why Sam’s father is missing, and why Sarah is lonely despite being the prettiest girl at the school, but all of this is pretty much cast aside when the bad guys come to town.
Forced to fend for himself, with Sarah, Sam and his beagle in tow, Smith runs for his life, whilst the hunters track him down with weapons and something really quite vicious in a truck. When all seems lost, however, another ridiculously attractive young woman comes to save the day. Thankfully, she’s not the running away type, she’s happier to stay and fight.
An epic battle leaves us with a film begging to have a sequel, leaving many of the threads in this story dangling. If it doesn’t get a sequel (the second book is scheduled for August 2011), it would be a shame as, whilst the film is far from perfect, it is an ably constructed action film that, despite some pacing issues, manages to remain thoroughly entertaining.
Pettyfer came to prominence in the adaptation of Anthony Horowitz’s novel Stormbreaker, and has delivered strong performances in the handful of films in which he has appeared. Most recently seen in Beastly, also based on a novel, the novel adaptation theme continues here. Pettyfer does turn in an interesting performance, as he manages to be handsome, heroic, get the girl and fight the good fight. His American accent, while not flawless, isn’t bad, and he does look the part, managing to portray his aggressive side with masculine confidence.
Henri is little more than an exposition engine. Thankfully, he is played by the versatile Timothy Olyphant. With his range of roles covering a number of genres from horror to comedy, he doesn’t have any trouble in turning in a fine performance in the flimsiest of parts. He’s good at what he does, even when there’s very little for him to do.
Dianna Agron doesn’t exactly shake her Glee stereotyping, acting as an ostracised beauty who used to be popular and has hidden depths and ambitions. It’s not a difficult role to play, and it comes as no surprise that she does it well. She’s overshadowed when Tracy Palmer appears as Number Six, a strong female character that doesn’t go all gooey at the site of the nearest man.
Despite such a good cast, it’s actually Callan McAuliffe, as Sam, who steals to show. In between being a nerd, the victim of bullies and John’s confidante, he really does turn in a fantastic performance, balancing melancholy with teen angst and managing to fit in some nicely timed comic moments.
Fresh from the success of Eagle Eye and Disturbia, DJ Caruso ably directs the film, exploiting some fantastic locations and focusing on the overly attractive cast. Everything that is bright and beautiful about John’s life is contrasted by the darker and more dangerous activities of the hunters. In Caruso’s hands, we’re not left with the washy and visually wet look of a film such as Twilight, and he instead opts for a relatively masculine film.
Smallville veterans, Alfred Gough and Miles Millar, have crafted a script that stands somewhere between a very good TV movie and an average Hollywood blockbuster. Benefiting from their superhero background, they manage to craft something that any comic book fan will recognise – a superhero in the making.
There’s just enough cultural reference in this to make you think they’re not trying too hard to be cool. Some of the dialogue is funny for all the right reasons, and there are few moments where you actually cringe, but it’s not disappointing or laboured. There are, however, a few scenes that are laid on a tad too thick – Sarah’s home life, for example – but these are few and far between.
So, we’ve got a plethora of good actors putting in above average performances, superb cinematography, impressive CGI and some moments that are a bit gruesome (don’t worry, it’s not Saw). What lets the film down slightly is the feeling that it’s overly long for what it actually is; at one hour fifty minutes, it really is stretching its premise thin, and some of the sequences are a bit too drawn out. A bit more economy and a good twenty minutes could be trimmed from people walking slowly, explaining what is going on, being thrown around and running places.
Firmly aimed at the post-Twilight teenage market, I Am Number Four isn’t going to win any awards for best picture, but it does manage to be a well acted, attractive action adventure, without an overly sickly love story. Surely this is a good thing?
I Am Number Four is certainly a noisy film, with every action sequence shaking any good surround sound system, while all the dialogue is clear and crisp. The picture is incredibly sharp, exceeding 30Mbps, and being detailed and seemingly free from artefacts or noise. In the daylight, everything looks stunning, though night scenes are sometimes a bit too dark.
Action sequences really show off the quality of Blu-ray, though a downside of such high quality is the disconcerting appearance that the characters are superimposed onto the background on occasion. If there’s one real flaw in the filming, it’s the number of close-up shots we get of Pettyfer and Agron; the camera almost looks like it’s six inches away from them at times, and it does look a bit odd on a big TV.
Disappointingly, there are no cast or crew interviews, nor is there a Making Of or commentary. It’s a bit surprising that such a mainstream release lacks a decent helping of special features.
DJ Caruso presents a handful of deleted scenes that have been “put back together”. He explains that the scenes were removed for a variety of reasons. He’s right about one thing – the majority of the scenes would have slowed down the pacing of the film, though they do show off some wonderful direction, a bit more exposition and a cameo by Karen Allen (Marion Ravenwood in Indiana Jones).
Becoming Number Six is Teresa Palmer’s video diary of her activities as Number Six, with Palmer explaining her role and showing off some of the action sequences in which she is involved. Admittedly, most of her scenes are action scenes, so it’s a bit of a shame that it’s under 12 minutes long. We do get to see her rehearsing combat sequences and exercising, which gives us some feeling of the amount of work she had to go through for her relatively brief role.
There are three minutes of bloopers, which mainly involve the cast and crew laughing, posing and being a bit silly whilst special effects and a dog go awry.
I Am Number Four will be released on 20 June and can be pre-ordered from the Den Of Geek Store.