Earth to Echo is meant to be an adventure movie for kids, but only succeeds at being a dull ET knock-off with no real suspense or characters to care about.
The film clearly wants to communicate something heartfelt about the sense of home a group of close friends can create, conveyed through the high-concept means of a stranded alien trying to get home. But it tells that story without charm, nuance, or even mystery.
In the film, three boys (all unknown actors) unite on their last night together before their respective families leave a neighborhood seized for a new freeway. The boys’ interaction is authentic, in that their dialogue is immature and witless, though the late addition of a female character makes no narrative sense and follows every cliché in the screenwriting playbook.
In its sole sign of innovation, the movie tracks the early part of the boys’ journey via YouTube videos and iPhone texts, until eventually they discover part of an alien ship in the Nevada desert. The shaky amateur shooting style—the movie is narratively framed by a heavy-handed future voice-over and supposedly filmed by one of the boys—is occasionally unbelievable, often jarring, and ultimately dull, like watching somebody else’s home videos.
Steven Spielberg’s 1982 classic worked because he kept the focus narrow and slowly built up the relationship between alien and kids. Earth to Echo does neither. Instead, it purports to be a coming-of-age film, a film about friendship, about feeling invisible, and a genre story about aliens and government conspiracy (centered on an uninspired Jason Gray-Stanford). “Having a friend light years away taught us distance is just a state of mind,” the voice-over declares, but the movie never fully develops the friendship or the inexplicable visit.
Earth to Echo also plays the storytelling almost too safe, steering clear of any real sense of danger as if to stay family-friendly, a goal ruined somewhat by the reckless behavior of the unsupervised children throughout the film (the movie is rated PG and includes some profanity).