Earth to Echo Movie Review
The filmmakers behind this pre-teen adventure admit that they were trying to combine the magic of E.T., Stand by Me and The Goonies, but they've forgotten that none of those complex, deeply involving classics ever talk down to their audience. By contrast, this movie is painful viewing for anyone over about age 12, as it indulges in shamelessly cute imagery, seasick hand-held camerawork and superficial emotional catharsis.
It's set in rural Nevada, where a new freeway is cutting through a suburban community, forcing families to relocate, which is devastating to three 13-year-old pals who grew up together. Tuck (Brian Bradley, better known as the rapper Astro) decides to videotape their last night together, as he teams up with Munch and Alex (Reese Hartwig and Teo Halm) to investigate some mysterious images on their phones, which seem to be leading them out into the desert. There they find a chunk of steel that takes them on a scavenger hunt, adding bits and pieces until it emerges as an adorable owl-shaped alien, which the boys name Echo. Inexplicably joined by hot girl Emma (Ella Wallestedt), who won't give them the time of day in school, they spend the night trying to outwit the freeway construction boss (Jason Gray-Sanford) and help Echo get home.
Most of these kinds of films sink or swim on the talent of their young actors, but it's impossible to tell how good these actors are, since first-time feature director Dave Green directs them to over-stated performances while forcing them to deliver first-time feature writer Henry Gayden's ridiculously trite dialogue. Every moment of "wonder" is so heavily telegraphed and pushed that any sense of discovery is lost. Even their school-nerd personas are contrived and unbelievable, as is Tuck's ability to capture every significant moment with one of his gadgety cameras, even in moments of high panic. The idea of him shooting and editing their last night together, which turns out to be rather enormously momentous, is a clever one, but the added melodramatic touches undermine the plot by trying to force it into a standard adventure formula.
That said, the effects work is solid, even if some of the design work is far too cute. So the film looks slick enough that young viewers who don't care about subtlety or subtext will probably get caught up in the excitement. But it wouldn't have taken much for the film to recapture that classic kids' adventure vibe: a stronger sense of suspense involving genuine peril, proper inner lives for the boys and a more alien-looking alien.