By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3 (Out of 4 Stars)
If one has already seen E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, or the more recent Super 8, this latest entry in space alien/human child relationships will offer few surprises story-wise. I know that statement probably looks strange under a somewhat favorable rating of 3 stars, but I do have a legitimate reason for giving this film a rather generous rating and review. If there is a reason to actually sit down and watch this movie, that reason is the cast of talented and charming young actors. The four lead actors and the lovable characters they portray provide the heart of this film and the only reasons to watch this cookie-cutter rehash of heartwarming, space alien-meets-kids films.
Shot entirely as a mini-camera, found-footage movie, Earth to Echo takes its audience through the last night a group of neighborhood friends has to spend together. They will all eventually move out of their neighborhood which is being demolished for a new highway. After picking up bizarre signals resembling maps on their mobile phones, Alex (Teo Halm), Tuck (Brian ‘Astro’ Bradley) and Munch (Reese Hartwig) decide to seek out the source of these unusual messages. The boys discover that the electronic disturbances they’ve been picking up have been coming from a benevolent robotic alien they name Echo, who has been trying to obtain the resources it needs to launch its ship and return home. Echo and the boys team up with classmate Emma (Ella Wahlestedt) and must evade government officials hot on Echo’s trail.
Earth to Echo’s writers, Henry Gayden, Andrew Panay, and director Dave Green use E.T. as a template and make so few changes that the film has so little original to offer its audiences. The writers and director do at least provide some sweet and often hilarious comic relief via their young cast, but the story itself may as well have been a low budget remake of E.T. This “remake”, however, doesn’t give its alien character all that much personality, or at least not as much personality as Spielberg’s lovable character has in his film. The mini owl-like robot redundantly chirps affirmative and negative responses to the kids’ questions. Had the alien character had more of a developed personality, the stakes for the events in this film would have been raised more substantially. The conflict in the film feels rather weak.
Still, the stakes concerning the future lives of the kids and their relationships with one another do give audiences reason enough to care for them. The humor involving these characters make them that much more lovable. Relative unknowns, Teo Halm, Brian ‘Astro’ Bradley, Reese Hartwig and Ella Wahlestedt impress with some outstanding performances. They all have the ability to express a wide range of emotions and also have superb comic timing. I was particularly impressed with Reese Hartwig whose character Munch is an absolute riot.
The comedy and the heartwarming nature of the film and characters did have me leaving the theater with a smile on my face. For that reason, I am generously giving this film a 3 star rating. As most of my readers know, I am a stickler for originality, and had it not been for the cast and their characters, I’d have given this film a lower rating. I think this movie would make an enjoyable film for families, but if E.T. has never been watched at home, I’d rather recommend that film classic instead.