A group of misfit friends band together to save their homes from being torn down (and their friendships from being torn apart) when a harmless adventure gives them more than they expected… stop me if you’ve heard this one before.
Earth to Echo certainly starts off like a Goonies update for the iPhone and YouTube generation, but screenwriter Henry Gayden and director Dave Green infuse enough heart into the narrative to help the film stand on its own. They also get a lot of help from an adorable extraterrestrial.
When a new freeway threatens Alex (Teo Halm), Tuck (Astro), and Munch’s (Reese Hartwig) neighborhood, and their cell phones start acting weird, the boys follow a map that has taken over one of their phones. It leads them out to the desert and raises questions about what’s really going on in their beloved neighborhood, but the most important thing they find is a new friend in the form of little alien Echo. (Those who love Wall-E will want to check out the tangible version created here.)
Green develops a realistic chemistry and friendship between the three boys, but their natural rapport gets shaken up (both literally and narratively) the more Tuck shoves a camera in their faces. Yes, the movie is found footage, and the approach works when it feels like the camera just happens to be capturing the boy’s interactions, but those moments are rare. Earth to Echo unfortunately disrupts its own naturalism with the boys moving the camera around more often than not.
Hartwig’s Munch is played as the comic relief throughout, and his performance is surprisingly charming and engaging in the face of the more outspoken Tuck and reserved Alex. But the true star of the film is Echo who is brought to life through impressive CGI, making him not only interesting to watch, but also a character who is easy to root for as the boys try to help him get back to his ship to fly back home.
Earth to Echo is full of remarkable visuals as Echo interacts with his new human friends and takes them on a scavenger hunt to help him repair his ship, but the CGI falters during a Transformers-like scene with a semi-truck in a way that takes you right out of the film and the magic it had created up to that point. While the effect is a cool idea and works to show Echo’s abilities, it is unfortunately (and surprisingly) poorly executed.
Effects aside, Earth of Echo is a story about friendship and the desire to find real connections, but also to keep them no matter what may stand in your way. In this day and age of more and more technology, Earth to Echo is at its best when it puts down the devices and the characters simply talk to one another.
Full of heart and framed around a fun adventure with a lovable little alien, Earth to Echo should appeal to adults and kids alike.
The Upside: Breakout performance from Hartwig, believable chemistry between the three boys, impressive visuals when it came to Echo and his ship, and a compelling score that is appropriate for Earth to Echo‘s target audience.
The Downside: Found footage approach more distracting than refreshing, Astro’s obsession with technology came across more forced than natural, and one scene of bad CGI that is too jarring to ignore.
On the Side: You can see more of Hartwig in the upcoming Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.