With Teo Halm, Brian “Astro” Bradley, Reese Hartwig, Ella Wahlestedt, Jason Gray-Stanford. Written by Henry Gayden. Directed by Dave Green. Rated PG for some action and peril, and mild language. 91 minutes.
EARTH TO ECHO has a lot of similarities to “E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial” (1982). A group of youngsters discover what turns out to be an alien mechanoid of some sort and dub it “Echo.” With the help of the kids, Echo is trying to reassemble itself from pieces scattered over many miles. Meanwhile, a group of scientists and government officials are also looking for the pieces, but for very different purposes.
However it is three decades later and we’re in a very different world. Steven Spielberg’s movie was a celebration of childhood in the suburbs, even if Mom and Dad no longer lived together. Kids were free to ride their bicycles all over the place and young Eliot and his friends eventually took to the skies thanks to their alien friend. Alex (Teo Halm), Tuck (Brian “Astro” Bradley), and Munch (Reese Hartwig) face a different situation. Their suburban community is being taken by the authorities and they all have to move away. On their last night together, they’re going to have an adventure.
These kids have grown up in an age of smartphones and GPS and the Internet. They don’t use candy pieces to attract the alien, they use electronics. It’s essentially a scavenger hunt as the pieces are located in places as different as an arcade, a biker bar, and a barn. The government agents eventually figure out what they’re doing, but a late arrival to their group, Emma (Ella Wahlestedt), proves a worthy addition.
Since this is billed as a family film, we can anticipate the ending even if Echo, like E.T., has a “death scene.” This is about the young friends learning to have faith in each other and beginning to understand that not all adults have their best interests at heart. For those viewers who measure their ages in single digits, this will prove to be one of the best films of the summer.
The special effects are effective because they build up slowly across the film. From the initial discovery of Echo’s parts to its reconstitution to the big payoff at the end, they serve the story without overwhelming it. The focus is always on kids and their mission to help their new friend Echo get home. If you take the side of the adults and worry that cute little Echo might be an advance scout for a massive alien invasion force, this probably isn’t the movie for you.
“Earth To Echo” probably won’t be a critic’s favorite any more than “Jersey Boys,” the musical tribute to Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, was, but both of them are actually very good signs. Particularly in the summer, Hollywood pitches most of its movies to the 18-25 audience, particularly the male audience. That explains all those monster movies and superhero films and broad comedies. “Earth To Echo” isn’t intended to burn up the box office (as “E.T.” did in 1982). It’s intended to be counterprogramming, in this case pitched to youngsters and their families. As with any other film, it can be good or bad, but that’s defined by whether it appeals to its intended audience. In that sense, “Earth To Echo” works just fine.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His most recent book is Shh! It’s a Secret: a novel about Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.