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Earth to Echo

by Kevin Taft
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Wednesday Jul 2, 2014
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Reese Hartwig, Astro and Teo Halm star in 'Earth to Echo'
Reese Hartwig, Astro and Teo Halm star in 'Earth to Echo'  

Take a chunk of "Goonies," mix it with a sprinkling of "Super 8," add a healthy dose of "E.T." and a touch of "Chronicle," and you get the hybrid kid's movie "Earth to Echo."

Relativity Media moved this film from a spring release date to the lucrative July 4th weekend, probably hoping families would need to take cover from "Transformers: Age of Extinction." Unfortunately, both films attract similar audiences, so this might be a misstep, especially since "Earth to Echo" steps in well-worn territory.

The film uses the "found footage/home video" genre to its advantage -- much like "Chronicle" -- and follows three best friends on their last day together. You see (and here we enter "Goonies"), their neighborhood is being torn down to build a freeway. As a result, their families are moving and the three friends won't be in the same town anymore. The friends include Munch (Reese Hartwig), the nerdy geek who has trouble making friends, Tuck (Astro) a fast-talking kid whose parents practically ignore him, and Alex (Teo Halm) whose recently divorced mother is ready to move on with her life.

As they decide to document their last day together (and upload it to YouTube) the whole town is noticing a problem with their cellphones. Weird displays occur that swiftly raise the kid's curiosity. Munch, of course, has figured out it's a map of sorts, and the three kids get on their bikes and travel far outside the town to check it out. There they find a mysterious metal cylinder harboring an alien that looks like a metal owl that coos cutely, but doesn't have much of a personality aside from that.

Of course, there are some bad guys, in the form of government agents that want what the kids have found. So the kids decide it is up to them to figure out what the owl wants and help him. They name the alien "Echo" because it echoes their speech patterns. Kind of. Because, again, it doesn't talk. But they can ask it "yes" or "no" questions, which delights these kids as if they were playing with that electronic Simon toy. (Which, if you've seen "Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones," doesn't always turn out so well.)

Along the way they pick up a pretty gal named Emma who ends up being taken with the white handsome kid. Not the nerd or the African-American kid. No. The cute white one. She just wants to be understood to be more than what her rich family represents, so she joins the kids and heads off to help. Eventually, they figure out Echo just wants to get home and is collecting pieces of metal from all over the town so he can fly his spaceship out of there.

If this sounds familiar, well, everything about this film is. It harkens mostly to "E.T.," which is probably one of the most perfect films ever made, so anything else will fail in comparison. But they steal so liberally you'd think Spielberg would sue: There's the kids on the bikes. The cute alien that just wants to get home. The mean government that wants to experiment on Echo and doesn't care about its needs. The alien that falls ill. The last minute revival and an un-earned teary farewell. And aside from all that, the final scene is stolen directly from "Super 8." Like... exactly.

Familiarity isn't the only problem with the film. These three kids have grown up in a fairly affluent neighborhood, yet Astro (who plays the African-American kid) talks like he's from the 'hood. There is no reason for it, and to make matters worse, it's incredibly annoying. Reese Hartwig is a likeable actor who should have led the film more than he does. First-time feature director Dave Green makes us think he's the lead, but then gives the big emotional moment to the character of Alex, who ends up crying about how he will miss his friend Echo. You know, the metal, non-talking alien he just met eight hours ago.

The entire affair is fairly insulting. It strives to be "E.T" right down to the film's poster, which depicts a finger pointing toward the little alien's head. There's nothing wrong with having another genial alien movie in the mix, and it's great that filmmakers want to aim their product squarely at kids. But when nothing in your film is original, it just seems like a film that was hobbled together, kind of like Echo's spaceship.

Kevin Taft is a screenwriter/critic living in Los Angeles with an unnatural attachment to ’Star Wars’ and the desire to be adopted by Steven Spielberg. He can be seen in the flesh on the weekly PBS movie review series "Just Seen It."

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