"Earth to Echo" would love to be the "E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial" for the 21st century. But the new movie is to "E.T." what Reese's Pieces is to lumps of sugar. They share an ingredient, but one is far more satisfying.
The lack of interesting characters and a patchwork plot leave "Earth to Echo" less of a new "E.T." and more a "Cloverfield" for kids.
Alex (Teo Halm), Tuck (Astro) and Munch (Reese Hartwig) are three best friends being forced apart by a freeway being built through their neighborhood. They spend their last night together following some weird electronic signals that show up mysteriously on their cellphones.
Their quest becomes a close encounter when they find a tiny robotic figure in the desert. Through what seems like an endless series of questions — and with the help of Emma (Ella Wahlestedt) — the group figures out the alien they have named Echo is trying to put together the ignition key for his spacecraft.
Writer Henry Gayden should have phoned home for a few better ideas for his script. The group eventually ends up facing members of a secret agency who reveal nefarious government plans. But getting to that point means going through a series of adventures that defy the film's logic.
It's a nice idea the kids have to help find parts to Echo's vehicle. What doesn't make sense is where the parts are hidden. Gayden puts the assorted parts in a creepy pawn shop, rowdy bar and closed video arcade simply to have the youngsters face awkward scenarios. In doing this, the movie ends up a disjointed adventure because the conflict feels superficially forced.
"Earth to Echo" was shot by director Dave Green as if all the footage came from the kids' cameras. Not only has the gimmick worn very thin since "The Blair Witch Project" days, it always ends up featuring footage that makes no sense.
Just like in "Cloverfield," it's hard to imagine that anyone would have the sense to keep a camera rolling when they get into serious danger. The cheat here is that one of the kids wears spy glasses — something every youngster owns — that record footage.
Because the novelty has worn off, the hand-held footage just looks shaky and bad.
The film also suffers from having a relatively likable cast but no breakout stars — like Henry Thomas or Drew Barrymore in "E.T." — that connect young viewers with the movie. These are generally forgettable characters who are put in forced situations shown through the now passé point-of-view filming style.
It ends up a close encounters of the mundane kind.
"Earth to Echo," rated PG for mild violence, language. Stars Teo Halm, Astro, Reese Hartwig, Ella Wahlestedt. Directed by Dave Green. Running time: 100 minutes. Grade: C-