Film Review: Earth to Echo

'Earth to Echo' is a shame-free replication of (or homage to) 'E.T.' and 'Chronicle,' but mainly hits home with its universal worry: What happens when best teen buds are forced to separate?

Set in a middle-class suburb in the Nevada desert, Earth to Echo is the story of three boys who have bonded as misfits, but whose found friendship is threatened when a construction project breaks up their neighborhood. The trio is composed of appealing junior nerd Munch (Reese Hartwig), self-described as an acquired taste, Alex (Teo Halm), and Tuck (Brian “Astro” Bradley). Tuck says he never goes a day without seeing his friends—they’re the only ones who get him. Rounding out memories of Chronicle, Tuck is an African-American, Alex a bit introverted. And for good measure a girl, Emma (Ella Linnea Wahlestedt), is added midway through the film. P.C much?

Signs of trouble show up when the trio’s cellphones start to act weird, throwing up images—they actually call it “barf”—which they decipher into a map. This leads the threesome into the desert: a scary nocturnal trek, and thrilling in a Blair Witch Project kind of way. They suspect that this chaos might have something to do with their forced exit from their homes.

The fellows find the titular Echo, separated from his own outer space origins, who manages to communicate his lost status to Alex. Since Alex is a foster child, they have a built-in affinity. Echo also has the familiar motto of many aliens, “We come as friends.” But you wouldn’t know it from the forces setting out to destroy the little thing.

Making extensive use of apps and tech toys—cellphones, video equipment, goofing on social media and texting—first-time director Dave Green is looking to resonate with youngsters for whom such daily bread is a can’t-do-without. Tuck (familiar to some as the musician Astro) is so intent on making a video of their adventures that he uses multiple cameras; “his” footage—not really, of course—provides a good portion of the movie, earning it the label “teen found footage.” Yet it’s neither recycled nor found. Nor is it a film within a film. And some of the swirly handheld camera work—cinéma-vérité, really—is woozy-making and vertiginous. It’s a relief when practiced cinematographer Maxime Plexandre breaks it up; a shot of some nasty-looking fellows in disguise as construction workers at night is a standout; so is a spectacular spaceship at the end of the film.

The trio’s proclivity for band-of-brothers rescue work is hinted at early on in a Robin Hood poster. But for Echo it’s mainly about homeward longings. Yet how to wrap your emotions around a mechanical little thing: an owl-like creature with—but of course—preternaturally blue eyes and a metal torso which gets more than a few dints in the course of the movie? He’s cute enough, but no Tin Man or even E.T.

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