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Originally published February 17, 2011 at 12:05 AM | Page modified February 17, 2011 at 2:32 PM

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Movie review

'I Am Number Four': Smart, funny actioner tracks teenage alien runaways

A movie review of "I Am Number Four," a smart and funny action tale involving adolescent aliens fleeing extraterrestrial predators under our noses on Earth. The cast includes Alex Pettyfer, Timothy Olyphant, Dianna Agron and Callan McAuliffe.

Special to The Seattle Times

Movie review 3 stars

'I Am Number Four,' with Alex Pettyfer, Timothy Olyphant, Dianna Agron, Callan McAuliffe, Teresa Palmer. Directed by D.J. Caruso, from a screenplay by Alfred Gough, Miles Millar and Marti Noxon, based on a novel by Jobie Hughes and James Frey (under the pseudonym Pittacus Lore). 110 minutes. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, and for language. Several theaters.

The first sit-up-and-take-notice hint that the very winning "I Am Number Four" may add up to more than a predictable, extraterrestrial-fugitive movie comes in an early scene set in a grocery store.

We see a hooded figure pile something like 20 turkeys into a grocery basket, pay for them at a checkout stand, then toss them through a small opening on a truck's huge trailer. A trailer, by the way, that is violently shaking from whatever or whoever is inside it.

The action is so unexpected — and as funny (especially with a close-up of all those turkeys) as it is unnerving — that it encourages an audience to stay tuned. There could be more slyly perverse fare where that came from.

Happily, a lot more. That fellow with the hood turns out to be one of several malevolent, pointy-toothed, heavily tattooed creatures hunting teenage refugees from a distant, occupied planet. The refugees, separated from one another and spread out over Earth, are humanoid, good-looking and endowed with superpowers they must learn to control.

"I Am Number Four," directed by D.J. Caruso ("Eagle Eye"), focuses on "John" (Alex Pettyfer), fourth on the villains' hit list and sick of being constantly uprooted by his chaperone, Henri (Timothy Olyphant). Changing identities from one place to the next, John can't get close to anyone. But he draws a line when he makes a couple of friends (Callan McAuliffe, Dianna Agron) in a small town.

It's hard not to think, while watching this film, that the story would suit several seasons' worth of a television series. "Number Four," in fact, based on a novel, has been adapted for the big screen by key veterans of TV's "Smallville" (writers Alfred Gough and Miles Millar) and "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" (Marti Noxon).

Those influences (especially "Buffy") are obvious in "Number Four," and also witty and welcome. As the story gathers steam and heads toward a fantastic, climactic battle that involves a butt-kicking blond warrior (Teresa Palmer), comedy, drama and action fold together into smart spectacle.

Even better, "I Am Number Four" leaves plenty of room for sequels. Here's hoping.

Tom Keogh: tomwkeogh@yahoo.com

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