“My heart is beating so fast right now!” a character announces midway through “Earth to Echo.” Well, it’s nice somebody was excited. But when a movie has to resort to that – bulletins as to how scenes should be going over – it’s a sure sign that nobody else’s pulse is budging.
“Earth to Echo” represents the worst of the old and the new. It has the bland child characters and the bad acting of an old-fashioned after-school special, not to mention a story lifted straight out of “E.T.,” except with the honest emotion replaced by rote sentimentality. At the same time, the movie is inflected by modern technology, in that it’s filmed in a new way that makes it original, but unwatchable.
The gimmick – and gimmick feels like the right word – is that the movie is shot as if on the central characters’ cellphones. The idea is that, one year after the events depicted on screen, the characters got together and edited the footage they shot the year before, and the result was “Earth to Echo.” As you might imagine, to give a sense of verisimilitude, the footage is shifty and unsteady, and when it does fix on an image, it’s often of another kid holding a cellphone.
If parents have any ambitions to get their children’s heads out from their phones, this is a movie to avoid. It not only reinforces nonstop connectivity as the norm, but it presents pointing one’s phone at everything as some kind of avenue to heroism. Actually, the phone is more than that here – it’s the wellspring of the entire adventure. The kids figure out that something very weird is going on when their smartphones are jammed by some outside force.
Three boys – the soulful Alex (Teo Halm), the outgoing Tuck (Brian “Astro” Bradley) and the chubby, endearing Munch (Reese Hartwig) – get on their bicycles and ride in the direction of the cellular disturbance. Their journey leads them to a small capsule and to an even smaller little metal guy from outer space, who can’t speak English but is a wiz at answering yes and no questions. Soon, they find that they are this little fellow’s only friends. They want to help him go home, while the government’s men want to find him and study him.
Let’s just put it out there: Dissection is an option.
Those looking for good things in “Earth to Echo” might take note of the little alien’s design. Big head, big blinking eyes, very cute. Also, there are two special effects moments that are conceptually brilliant and perfectly executed. In one, a truck disassembles and re-combines. A similar effect on a grander scale shows metal parts swirling around in the sky, then fusing together into a space ship. It’s also worth noting, just as another sign of the collective mind, that this is yet another movie in which the government is not to be trusted.
But all these minor virtues can’t compensate for a story that starts off and remains a half-hour behind the audience. Everything that happens takes forever, so that the modest running time seems much longer. Much of the acting feels pushed, and though the movie leans hard on the emotional connection between the kids, the connection isn’t felt. Also, there’s no over-estimating how tiresome the cellphone-footage gimmick becomes. It’s as if there’s a barrier between the viewer and the story that never comes down.
Give director Dave Green, in his feature debut, credit for trying something new and having an idea. Unfortunately, not all ideas are good ones.
Earth to echo
Starring: Teo Halm, Reese Hartwig, Brian “Astro” Bradley
Director: Dave Green
Running time: 91 minutes
Rating: PG for some action/peril and mild language.
The Lowdown: Three boys discover a small metal alien and help it to get home.