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Cinema Signal: Not quite a green light but has elements of strong appeal for a limited audience.
The Book
and the must-read source material for the film
. "I Am Number Four"

This sci-fi escape-from-deadly-aliens-coming-after-me futuristic mystery thriller (ala "The Terminator"), borrowing extensively from "X-Men" with a taste of this year's TV series "The Event," may be the most derivative film I've seen in years. It may not be heavy on originality (it even incorporates a subplot about the school bully), but director A.J. Caruso ("Eagle Eye," "Disturbia") puts that bother aside with an adaptation by screenwriters Alfred Gough and Miles Millar of the novel (by James Frey and Jobie Hughes working under the pseudonym Pittacus Lore) and tries to recoordinate familiar concepts for a go at modern audiences. It doesn't work out so well for him, let alone, us.

A handsome fifteen year-old alien, going under the alias of Daniel Jones (Alex Pettyfer, "Tormented," "Wild Child"), is a young man who needs a guardian. His is Henri (Timothy Olyphant, "The Crazies," "Justified") (pronounced, Henry), who takes his task more seriously than his charge, is quick to send them packing as they sense the approach of their evil enemies who have just eliminated Number Three in a circle of eight teenage Loriens who have a human appearance and special powers. Called the Garde, one of their primary protections against the Mogadorians who outsize and outnumber them is the charm that they, the Garde, can only be killed in a set order.

The elimination of his predecessor in the order is more than just a sense. When the shield of their order appears as a new, glowing scar on the calf of his right foot, it is visible proof of the loss.

Henri renames the lad John Smith as they relocate to the small community of Paradise, Ohio for reasons that aren't random. He's trying to track other Gardes on the list because their defenses against the monsters tracking them will be much greater in combination -- a lesson in the power of unity. To this point, John hasn't yet acquired any of the "Legacies" (powers) that will be his as he matures.

The first one appears during chemistry class in the high school he now attends. It is "Lumen," allowing him to produce light from his hands as a weapon of offense and resistance to heat and fire as a defensive power. As he learns to control it, he finds in it the power to project objects and people through space.

John is no sooner enrolled in class and taking possession of his personal locker in the hall when he meets Sarah (Dianna Agron), a pretty hot coed with a camera; Sam Goode, a nerd who follows the dream of his missing father in pursuing alien contact; school bully Mark (Jake Abel) whose favorite victim is Sam and who pines to regain his relationship with Sarah, who has (wisely) dumped him.

John discovers a dog, adopts it with Henri's reluctant acceptance, and names is Bernie Kosar. But as we'll discover during the approaching combat scene, this is a dog like no other. Do you remember when, in "The Bridesmaids," the air marshall denied he was one... until he needed to serve in his capacity and revealed that he was one? Well, this animal will be even more of a surprise if you don't mind glaring CGI effects.

When we finally see the Mogadorians, led by a Commander (Kevin Durand), they are football-guard size appearing even taller by virtue of their floor-length coal-black longcoats. Very cool. They breath through gills on each side of their noses, giving them the feral pig look that makes them visually abhorrent.

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  • Bloopers
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  • --> As the final encounter with the Mogadorians grows imminent, Number Six (Teresa Palmer, "The Sorcerer's Apprentice") one of the hotter babes on the planet) shows up. She's whip-cracking quick and extremely effective, demonstrating the truth of Henri's prediction that two Gardes working together has a multiplyer effect.

    But, now, the relationships get a little weird, with John having to do the sequel-setup thing and go with the beauteous and clever Number 6 to find their fellow survivors. Against John's wishes, Sam worms his way joining in for the search, making it a threesome, which leaves Sarah and Mark back in Paradise. Is Number Six destined for a connection with Sam when John comes back for Sarah? Or is the sequel going to take other directions? We may never know.

    While Pettyfer has the looks and enough acting chops to service his role adequately, his works are not likely to earn him any award nominations. Which seems to be the tenor of the cast, including Olyphant who has been so much better and credible in other roles (TV's "Justified" being the crown in his cap). Best of the lot goes to Palmer for the kind of energy, spunk and personality whtat will win her many a day before the cameras. She does enough with her role here to say that her future is assured.

    This brave new world of sci-fi adventure, while it smacks of so much "been-there; done that," is not without more originality than meets the eye -- to those who have read the book. The positive enjoyments for the film on its own merits include attractive fresh faces, central character Pettyfer's good looks and generally capable acting ability. Add to that a set of rules that govern the action. Without the benefit of the source material, however, the film is likely to come off with some silly aspects, which really isn't fair to the source material. The underlying rules of the alien planet involved gives the action its body weight--once you know what they are.

    The big miscalculation here (in this critic's opinion) is in not incorporating the legend of the garde in all its explanatory detail.

    To catch up to it for a fuller appreciation, just read the novel for the rules that govern the aliens and their backstories before seeing the film -- or as a companion to the DVD.

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                                          ~~  Jules Brenner  

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    Dianna Agron and Alex Pettyfer
    Number Four, showing his alien capabilities to his first love.

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