I am not opposed to movies taking things that have worked in the past and repurposing them into something new. Heck, J.J Abrams has built an entire career out of doing that very thing.
But if you go to that well too much in one sitting you don’t leave much room for any new ideas and no matter how sharp it looks, the whole thing can wind up feeling flat and uninspired.
Such is the case with “Earth to Echo,” which cribs so much from “E.T.,” “District 9” and “Goonies” that it only serves to remind you how much better those movies were.
The movie centers on three tween-aged boys Alex (Teo Halm), Tuck (Brian “Astro” Bradley), and Munch (Reese Hartwig), who are all about to move away as their housing edition is in the path of an interstate development.
On their last night together, the boys’ cellphones begin to act strangely and they realize the image on their screens is a map to a nearby location out in the desert.
With each boy telling his parents he is spending the night at another boy’s house, the trio sneak off by themselves and ride their bikes off into the suburban wilderness.
What they discover is a cute little alien they name Echo, which looks like a mechanized owl and only responds to yes-or-no questions with a series of beeps. It turns out Echo has crash-landed on Earth and needs the boys’ help to find replacement parts so it can return home.
The boys then spend the night running around town finding parts and living out the ultimate in 14-year-old-boy wish fulfillment by going into a bar, driving a car, and sneaking into a girl’s bedroom, all while staying one step ahead of an ominous and mysterious group of men with flashlights.
To help round out the demographics, the boys get some help from a girl, a blonde-haired, porcelain-faced classmate named Emma (Ella Wahlestedt).
“Earth to Echo” is the feature-length debut of director Dave Green working with a screenplay from fellow newcomer Henry Gayden. Their greenness shows in a lot of areas, especially in that they aren’t able to mine much from the now-familiar found-footage gimmick where all of the events are “recorded” by the boys.
There’s just no real depth to the characters, the alien, or the plot; and while it executes all the superficial stuff very well when it tries to land some emotional punches, the whole thing just rings hollow.
This is one of those movies that is packed with potential and probably could have worked as fresh-faces-delivering-familiar-ideas if it just gave us more to connect with.
As it is, “Earth to Echo” just inoffensively drifts by; perfectly living up to its namesake as a faint reverberation of something more significant that quickly fades away.
“Earth to Echo” is rated PG for some action and peril, and some mild language.