Starring: Teo Helm, Astro, Reese Hartwig
Directed by: Dave Green (debut)
Written by: Henry Gayen (debut)
I am of the opinion that the influx of comic-book movies is killing original entertainment for the nation’s 10-year-old boys. Whereas previous generations had non-franchise things like “The Goonies,” “E.T.” and “The Karate Kid” to latch onto, kids these days are fed a steady diet of Spider-Man, Transformers and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoons, video games, and movies from birth. Everything they like is available in any medium they choose. Don’t think of me as some old man shaking his fist at a cloud; I’m a fan of Spider-Man too. Part of me wishes for the days when children’s entertainment was more diversified, and the filmmakers behind “Earth to Echo” appear to, um, echo that sentiment.
When three best friends—Tuck, Munch, and Alex—are set to move out of the neighborhood they share to make way for a superhighway, each of their smartphones start to malfunction, displaying what appears to be a map. On the night before the big move, the trio schemes to ride their bikes out to the location their phones are pointing to. After avoiding mysterious construction workers searching the area with flashlights, the boys find a dirty hunk of metal that turns out to be a tiny, owl-like, robotic alien. Able to communicate only in parroted beeps, the boys name the alien Echo. Through a series of yes and no questions, the boys determine Echo’s ship has crashed on Earth and he needs their help to get back home. They’re only obstacle is the mysterious construction foreman on their tail.
Shot in a found-footage style that suggests “Super 8” by way of “Chronicle,” “Earth to Echo” is well-made if not as resonant as it should be. The main problem really lies with Echo and the lack of sympathy he evokes by his cold robotic features and limited verbal skills. Echo has a kittenish cuteness, but is in the movie so little time that the bond that develops between him and the boys is hard to buy into. Parents will be relieved to know that, unlike lots of recent movies geared toward kids, everything in “Earth to Echo” is relatively squeaky clean without devolving into the dreaded lameness that kids can smell from a mile away. The word “crap” is uttered a few times, the boys tell the age-old round robin lie of “I’m sleeping at so-and-so’s house” to escape for their adventure, and one of the boys fibs about kissing a pretty girl in their class while one of the other boys later holds her hand. While I may be about 25 years too old for “Earth to Echo” to affect me in any significant way, the DVD may become a staple of 4th grade sleepovers.