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Movie Review

It's tough to be the new kid. Especially in high school. You gotta find your locker, settle into your classes, figure out the clique system.

And if you're emigrating from another solar system, well, the adjustment period can be so much worse.

Take Number Four, for instance, a transfer student from the planet Lorien. Ever since his homeland was destroyed by the murderous Mogadorians, Four has majored in survival. He's hiding out—like the rest of Lorien's stragglish survivors—on a backwater planet called Earth, hopping from town to town just to stay alive. "We are the last of our kind," he solemnly tells us. And the Mogadorians, who can't stand to leave a job undone, are aiming to finish their brutal liquidation project.

But there's a catch.

For some inexplicable reason, Number Four and his eight cohorts—considerately named One through Nine—must be killed in order. Perhaps that's because the Mogadorians suffer from some sort of collective obsessive-compulsive disorder. Whatever the reason, we're not told. Nor are we told why Four's parents simply didn't name him something different, like James or Clyde. (Or, if he had to be named after a number, why it couldn't have been 15,942.) All we know is that Mogadorians have offed numbers One through Three, and Number Four's up next.

Trying to stay a step or two ahead of death, Four and his guardian, Henri, arrive at the hamlet of Paradise, Ohio, and settle in for what they hope will be a long, quiet stay. While Henri concentrates on turning their farmhouse into a quasi-fortress, Number Four gets to know the locals. He enrolls at the town's high school as "John Smith." He makes friends with Sam (a science geek with a penchant for UFOs) and turns his smoldering good looks on Sarah (ex-girlfriend of Paradise's resident jock jerk). Slowly, "John" realizes he kinda likes it here. Paradise may not be Lorien, but it's beginning to feel like home.

But just when he's starting to get it all together, Four—er, John—starts going through the Lorien version of puberty. Instead of pimples, John deals with strange lights shooting out of his hands. (Awkward!) Instead of struggling with a cracking voice, he discovers he can manipulate objects with his mind. (Weird!) It takes some time, of course, before he can learn to harness all these emerging powers appropriately, and thus avoid showcasing his flashlight hands in the middle of algebra.

Time, however, is a luxury John doesn't have, because the dreaded Mogadorians are determined to cross his number off their interstellar hit list.

Positive Elements

John and his numbered friends are more than just galactic vagabonds: They're superheroes sans capes, full of outlandish abilities and lofty goals. We get an inkling that, should a sequel be in the offing, they may actually help save the world—not theirs, but ours.

Of course, they're more concerned with saving their own skins this time around. But they still show moments of heroism and self-sacrifice—as do their human cohorts. They defend one another from the slings and arrows of the high school scene as well as the more potent weaponry the Mogadorians tote. John's loyal beagle shows a surprisingly fierce instinct to defend his master—nearly paying the ultimate price—and Henri's whole job is to lay down his life for John, should the need arise.

He also reminds John that countless Loriens sacrificed themselves to ensure that John and his ilk would survive, and the least he can do is hold it together long enough to reach his full potential. "You're not my father," John hollers. "No," Henri responds. "He's dead. For you."

It's a pretty heavy burden for a teen to bear, and John chafes under the responsibility. He lashes out at Henri at times, but mainly because he has an equally laudable longing: He wants a home. He falls in love with Sarah (we're told that, unlike earthlings, Loriens bond with their one true love forever), and he's charmed by her family. They eat dinner at the table, enjoy lengthy conversations with each other and confiscate all electronic media until the family meal is through. John has never known a real home, a real family. And through his alien eyes, we see how important these things should be.

[Spoiler Warning] John's duties eventually trump his desire for home and family. He's got a job to do, and he has the fortitude to do it. But even as he and his loyal companions zoom off into the sunset, he knows something now he didn't know at the start: There's no place like home.

Spiritual Content

Sam jokingly suggests that the reason he's picked on by school bullies is becasue he has "sinned."

Sexual Content

John is living in Florida when the movie opens, and we see him at a beach party with a number of bikini-clad women. One of them invites him to go swimming with her alone. But before any hanky-panky can happen, a scar on John's leg begins to glow and burn, signifying Number Three's death.

John and Sarah care about each other, and they kiss occasionally. Other couples make out in the background of several scenes. Number Six, a female, wears a semi-transparent tank top in one scene with her bra clearly visible underneath. John spends some of the movie shirtless.

Violent Content

The Mogadorians relish destroying whole civilizations. So they're certainly not going to shy away from onscreen violence. Right out of the gate, they chase down and kill Number Three and his guardian. The former is stabbed through the gut by a long, bladed weapon; the latter is grabbed and presumably killed (offscreen) by a hideous gigantic beast.

Later, the Mogadorians lure John and Henri into a trap with the help of some unsuspecting UFO conspiracy-theorists. But when the plan goes awry, the head Mogadorian makes one of the men swallow a whirling bladed ball. "It wants to play with you," he says. We don't see the carnage, but later we see their house surrounded by police tape and a television reporter talking about how police found two "mutiliated bodies" there. The aliens also knock out a police officer, throw a high school boy into a second-story window from the outside (both survive) and stab another person in the chest, killing him.

But John and his kind are hardly pacifists. They hack through Mogadorians like so much turkey at Thanksgiving—stabbing, slicing, shooting and sometimes blowing them up. That violence is partially mitigated by the fact that Mogadorians apparently don't bleed. Instead, they turn into pillars of ash that fall to the ground or blow away.

A Mogadorian pet experiences a more gruesome death when it engages in mortal combat with John's shape-shifting guardian, a large, vicious critter called a Chimera. Each gravely injures the other. The Mogadorian monster is eventually dispatched when the Chimera rips out its throat—something we see in grisly CGI detail.

John gets into fights with bullies at school; they punch and kick him before he uses his abilities to throw them into trees. He almost breaks the arm of the school's star quarterback—"I hope you can throw with your left hand," he threatens—before Sarah forces him to back off. Footballs are also used as weapons. And an alien shootout results in the complete destruction of the high school football stadium.

Sarah falls off a rooftop (and John saves her). John and Henri get into a tussle at home, with John throwing Henri into a wall before Henri manages to subdue him with a threatened choke hold. John and Sarah go through a grotesque carnival attraction filled with fake severed heads skewered on spikes, gross operation scenes and chain saw-wielding extras.

Crude or Profane Language

About 10 s-words. Milder profanities include "a‑‑," "b‑‑ch" and "h‑‑‑." God's and Jesus' names are misused a handful of times.

Drug and Alcohol Content

Sarah's parents drink wine with dinner.

Other Negative Elements

To help John escape, someone from school steals a piece of "evidence" from the police (a mysterious box that belongs to John) and lies to the police captain about which way John was headed. Sam apparently decides to run away from his guardian in order to follow John on his adventures. John doesn't always show proper respect to Henri. Sarah posts pictures of people on the Internet without their permission—including one of her teacher picking his nose.

Conclusion

I Am Number Four, based on a young-adult novel of the same name by Pittacus Lore (a pseudonym for authors James Frey and Jobie Hughes), is exactly what you'd expect it to be: a flyaway diversion that can be forgotten as quickly as it is consumed. Superspecial teens with cool powers use their abilities to ward off evil. And, with Frey and Hughes reportedly planning to write five more Number books, DreamWorks hopes it has a franchise on its hands.

That's not an altogether horrible aspiration. If we take I Am Number Four as a rumination on the lessons of growing up, we've gotta like some of the messages in play here. Specifically, that maturity is more about making mature decisions, less about engaging in "adult" behavior. For John, growing up means accepting his responsibilities, not being able to buy beer legally.

If only the film itself were equally responsible. I Am Number Four knows that its target audience—young teens—is far more interested in aliens, explosions and shirtless hunks than any sort of profound lessons on the nature of maturity. Think of it as Harry Potter meets Percy Jackson meets Twilight meets Independence Day meets The X-Files meets World Wrestling Entertainment.

Number Four, the character, may be willing to give up much for us. Number Four, the movie, just wants to take … two hours of our time.

Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Christian Beliefs

Other Belief Systems

Authority Roles

Profanity/Violence

Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality

Discussion Topics

Additional Comments/Notes

Episode Reviews

Credits

Rating

PG-13

Readability Age Range

Author

Cast

Alex Pettyfer as John; Timothy Olyphant as Henri; Dianna Agron as Sarah; Teresa Palmer as Number 6; Callan McAuliffe as Sam; Kevin Durand as the Mogadorian Commander; Jake Abel as Mark

Distributor

DreamWorks

Network

Performance

Record Label

Platform

Publisher

In Theaters

February 18, 2011

On Video

May 24, 2011

Year Published

Awards

Reviewer

Paul Asay

We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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