Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 29 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG for some Action and Peril, and mild Language
Directed by: Dave Green
Written by: Henry Gayden
Starring: Teo Halm, Brian Bradley, Reese Hartwig & Ella Wahlested
This Independence Day weekend has passed on a pathetic low at the box office (worst since 1999). New movies have fallen victim to Michael Bay’s robots riding robo-dinosaurs. One of these films is the formerly-Disney’s-now-Relativity’s EARTH TO ECHO. Playing out like a sort-of remake to E.T. via found footage style, the film certainly hearkens back to a time when family entertainment took more risks and didn’t need to be toned down to a certain level of safety. EARTH TO ECHO is nowhere near the same level of Steven Spielberg’s classic family adventure, but it’s actually a decent kid’s movie. It’s got a fair share of problems, but I enjoyed this one and it’s almost a shame to see it perform so horribly at the box office.
Tuck, Munch, and Alex are three friends who only have each other. Through a series of unfortunate circumstances, their town is going to be leveled for a freeway. In their last week together, a mysterious message appears on the group’s phones that resembles a map. Determined to spend their final night together in style, they trek out to the isolated location and make an amazing discovery. A little robot-like alien, they call it Echo, is stranded in the middle of the desert and is injured. Echo needs their help in order to make it back to outer space and things become dangerous along the way in this adventurous night all recorded on various cameras.
As a found footage effort, EARTH TO ECHO does indeed feel like it was cobbled together by a young kid. In this case, it’s sort of a back-handed compliment, because that’s precisely how the film is billing itself. This is a found footage E.T. Despite some shaky acting in a few key scenes, EARTH TO ECHO does have remarkable characters for this kind of film. Each kid has their own identity and (for the most part) I believed these child actors in the roles. This being said, Echo itself is not a good character and I wasn’t particularly expecting it to be one from the onset. Since the film borrows so liberally from Spielberg’s 1982 classic, then it’s only fair to compare it ever so slightly to that unabashed source of inspiration. In E.T., the alien was a character. It didn’t matter that he couldn’t speak many words. There was a distinct personality about him. On the other hand, Echo comes across as a mere marketing tool that beeps and chirps. He’s the ideal toy for children, if this movie were financially successful…which is highly unlikely given the pathetic box office receipt thus far.
The children’s adventure is fun while it lasts, even if I didn’t buy the more would-be emotional moments towards the climax. It certainly helps that the pacing is super fast. This movie rushed by. The effects range from good to highly questionable. One of the more laughable moments has already been showcased in the trailer and TV spots. It involves Echo using a power to break an oncoming truck into pieces and then put it together after its passed by the kids. The confused trucker floating by was clearly just a guy in front of a green screen that had been inserted into the film. The effects work on Echo was decent though. The acting is on the same level as the effects. Sometimes, the young cast members soar and other times are iffy. The adult actors playing the antagonists were genuinely intimidating towards the adolescent heroes and I enjoyed the inclusion of a distinct threat (something that might have been merely glossed over in a lesser film).
Disney may have been wise to sell this to Relativity. Especially seeing how the film completely underperformed. I was the only patron in an otherwise completely vacant theater watching EARTH TO ECHO play out on the screen. Even with the considerable problems the movie has, it’s a shame to see it do so poorly. I enjoyed it for what it was. It’s a fun kid’s film that’s overall satisfying. I feel like this movie might have soared on something like the Disney Channel. Again, it sounds like I’m badmouthing the movie, but I mean this as praise. The golden era of Disney Channel original movies (DON’T LOOK UNDER THE BED, HOUNDED, UNDER WRAPS, etc.) weren’t afraid to take some risks and be fun family entertainment that everybody could enjoy. EARTH TO ECHO is the same type of movie.
There are certainly plenty of problems in EARTH TO ECHO. To say that’s it’s the lesser handheld cousin of E.T. is an understatement. At least, it’s not nearly as awful as MAC & ME (look up that if you want to see a horrible rip-off of Spielberg’s 1982 hit). The found footage construction is a little shaky. Everything plays out as if a kid constructed this piles footage on his computer and then uploaded it to YouTube. Echo is less like an alien and more like an advertisement for toys (which are liable to become collector’s items at some point). It’s a fast-paced adventure that’s enjoyable while it lasts, despite the faults that permeate throughout.