Earth to Echo is an engagingly unassuming E.T. knockoff, a kids’ movie that serves up a similar alien-with-kids story with the Blair Witch/Paranormal Activity shaky cam. Cast with cute, likable kids, given a few decent effects and having that found-footage “reality,” the movie doesn’t have the financial or emotional heft of the mythic “phone home” tale. But it works well enough.
Three tweenage pals are about to be split apart forever. Their Nevada subdivision is being demolished for some sort of bypass. It’s not fair, but what do you do?
Nervous tech nerd Munch (Reese Hartwig), boisterous camera buff Tuck (Brian “Astro” Bradley) and shy, sad-faced Alex (Teo Halm) make the most of their last days together. And when their electronics start going kerflooey and their cell phones start showing this blotch shape, they have purpose. What’s going on, and why is this construction site so … Men in Black-like?
The blotch shape is a map, and that sets the lads off on their bikes for a nighttime scavenger hunt with Tuck capturing it all on his GoPro Hero cam, narrating our story as he does. First, they find a canister, and then they figure out who’s in it. And then they find other five places on the map that deepen the mystery.
First-time director Dave Green finds plenty of novelty and fun in a pretty derivative script by Henry Gayden and Andrew Panay. The creature they discover is like the shiny, digital owl from Clash of the Titans. Adorable. But the kids and their reaction to this extraordinary encounter sell this movie. Communicating with the … thing … is paramount. And what’s their first question? “Do you eat humans?”
I like the childlike problem solving that goes on and the PG “breaking curfew” edge to the story, which takes the boys all over their corner of the world, into all sorts of places where they could get into trouble — a bar, an arcade, a pawn shop. They also have to venture into the house of their prettiest classmate, the one none of them have the guts to approach. She (Ella Wahlestedt) turns out to be friendly, gutsy and just as curious as the rest of them, another little lift that the movie needs.
The no-name cast spreads from the kids to the adults, but the parents find a laugh, here and there. Veteran character actress Mary Pat Gleason shows up as a biker.
Once you see her and remember the million other movies she’s been in, she delivers a chuckle. Wahlestedt and Bradley stand out among the child actors.
The plot elements swiped from E.T. are many but are given tiny twists. Earth to Echo has lots of blown opportunities, but developing any single stop on the kids’ night-long adventure would have added minutes to its lean, 91-minute run-time.
Cast: Reese Hartwig, Teo Halm, Brian “Astro” Bradley, Ella Wahlestedt.
Director: Dave Green.
Screenwriter: Henry Gayden, Andrew Panay.
A Relativity Media release. Running time: 91 minutes. Some action and peril, and mild language. Playing at: area theaters.