By NATHAN LERNER
“Earth to Echo” offers a pleasant little coming of age tale about a bunch of adolescents, who encounter an extraterrestrial.
A trio of junior high school boys have grown up together in a suburban Nevada development. Tuck (Brian “Astro” Bradley of “The X Factor”) is a techno whiz. He has mounted a series of ubiquitous cameras to record everything that happens. Tuck even has rigged his eyeglasses with a mini-cam, so he can surreptitiously record people without their knowledge. Alex (Teo Halm) is a foster child, who has apparently never been adopted. The group is rounded out by Munch (Reese Hartwig), a cherubic kid, who manifests a protective attitude towards his ditzy divorcee mom.
The long-time buddies are spending their last days together. The town is supposedly being torn down to accommodate the construction of a new expanded highway. The indigenous populace is about to be displaced.
The departure drama is eclipsed by a techno-mystery. Cell phones begin to abruptly display a strange image. As Tuck jokes, “It looks like your phone barfed on the screen.”
There is an infusion of men, skulking about town. They are wearing construction helmets and safety vests. Are they really construction workers or is there something else going on?
Eager to solve what is going on, the boys bike into the desert one night without their parents’ knowledge. There, next to a transformer, they discover an odd-looking cylinder. Inside it, a diminutive, otherworldly space creature is cowering with fear. Intermittently, he emits high-pitched electronic chirps. He’s not exactly the ominous figure found in many sci-fi flicks. The boys dub their new friend, “Echo.”
It turns out that Echo has crash-landed into this remote section of Nevada. To return home, he needs to recover the missing components of his space ship. Perhaps promoted by their own sense of impending displacement, the boys, decide to help out the alien.
As a schoolmate of the boys, Emma (Ella Linnea Wahlestedt) offers an interesting distaff character. She is one of the most popular girls in the class. However, despite her conventionally attractive looks, she harbors a decidedly rebellious spirit. Over the boy’s vociferous objections, she insinuates herself into their adventure.
You may have heard of a little film, titled “E.T. the Extra Terrestrial.” The 1982 film, directed by Steven Spielberg, involves a story line about an alien, who is accidentally left behind by his colleagues on Planet Earth. The titular character forms a strong bond with a troubled 10-year-old boy and his siblings. Does this story line sound somewhat familiar?
Screenwriter, Henry Hayden, and director, Dave Green, have brazenly appropriated elements from “E.T.” Other than the use of a computer application as a plot element, there is little new here. Even the poster for this film closely mimics that of the Spielberg classic. Is this film guilty of conceptual plagiarism or does it rise to the level of a homage?
This film suffers from a poorly constructed alien. Unlike the cuddly, eponymous entity in “E.T.,” here the creature is an obvious CGI artifact. It consists of a mechanical torso with an over-sized head and cutesy-poo eyeballs. It egregiously fails to elicit any sense of identification.
What saves the film from ignominy are the naturalistic performances of its juvenile actors. They all prove likable. Their fledgling forays into autonomy and their struggles with adult characters strike a responsive chord. In her feature debut, Ella Linnea Wahlestedt is particularly impressive. She transcends the constraints of her limited screen time and forges an engagingly assertive persona. It should serve as an inspiration to young female viewers.
“Earth to Echo” is an obvious knock-off of a vastly superior film. Although “Earth to Echo” is transparently derivative, it is nevertheless a charming little trifle appropriate for family audiences.
“Earth to Echo”
*** PG (for some action and peril, and mild language) 89 minutes
Nathan Lerner sees over 200 feature films a year. He welcomes feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org.