“Earth to Echo” is the kid who has consumed so much pop culture that he no longer has any thoughts of his own. Everything he says and does is someone else’s idea, not necessarily mindless but rather overloaded by information. And yet, it’s strangely likable, in spite of the myriad of shortcomings it possesses. The leads are easy to root for; they’re good kids who are looking to take one last adventure together before they are separated. It’s a movie that acknowledges cynicism, but shows a more hopeful path. It’s hard to get too down on a movie like that, even a mediocre one.
The film is narrated by and documented courtesy of the recording devices of Tuck (Astro. Yes, the actor’s name is Astro.), who originally intends to film his last days with his closest friends Alex (Teo Halm) and Munch (Reese Hartwig). These are their last days because their sleepy Nevada town is mysteriously becoming the home to a superhighway, and the residents are forced to move elsewhere. The boys all pull the age-old tween trick of telling their parents they’re sleeping at each other’s houses so they can stay out all night. They’re doing this because their cell phones are all going bonkers lately, but in different ways. The patterns on their phone match a nearby map, so they follow the images on their phone, and discover an alien life form who’s trying to put the pieces to his equipment back together in order to go home. The boys are only happy to help. The “builders” of the superhighway, however, are less accommodating.
Clearly, “E.T.,” “Cloverfield” and “Super 8” are driving the bus here, and those are all good movies from which to borrow, but the only thing this movie adds to the mix is a little innocence. Now let me guess: you were about to say that “E.T.” was innocent too, and yes, it was, but it’s also the movie that has a 10-year-old actor call someone “penis breath,” which is so offensive today that it’s a borderline hate crime. (Seriously, go back and look at Steven Spielberg’s filmography, and you will see that he has been as destructive a force on our culture’s acceptance of violence as anyone.) “Earth to Echo” keeps it clean, though often it’s at its own expense, especially when the kids follow Echo’s directions to lead them to a bar, or someone else’s property. In the real world, these kids would have been arrested seven times over. Here, they sneak into the house of the unattainable Emma (Ella Wahlestedt), inadvertently rip her bedroom to shreds, and then gain her as a companion. The script makes a meager attempt at setting this up (she doesn’t really want to be super-popular, because you know, that doesn’t matter in middle school), but it’s not very convincing.
Echo, however, is adorable, and what luck, he can understand English, even if he can’t actually speak it, limiting their communication to yes-or-no questions. This makes no sense, of course, but it helps advance the plot, and that is all that matters, so move along, nothing to see here. Those are the parts that “Earth to Echo” gets wrong. The characters would only need to ask one or two more questions to fully understand and justify the limits of communication between humans and Echo, but they don’t bother. It’s as if they came up with a safe way of limiting the transfer of information, and decided that that was enough. It’s not.
Think of “Earth to Echo” as a gateway movie for the films from which it’s blatantly stealing, and how that is not necessarily a bad thing. Indeed, on the way home, my kids focused on the fact that a character said the word ‘crap.’ The horror, right? Now imagine that conversation with a character saying ‘penis breath.’ Which conversation would you rather have? I thought so.