E.T. it ain’t

Casey Matlock; reporter
“Earth to Echo” is a low-budget sci-fi film that tries way too hard to be the new millennium’s version of “E.T.” The story begins when a construction crew digs in the neighborhood of best friends Tuck, Munch and Alex. The three receive encoded messages on their cell phones. Convinced something bigger is going on, they go to their parents and the authorities.
When everyone around them refuses to take the messages seriously, the three embark on a secret adventure to crack the code and follow it to its source. But taking matters into their own hands gets the trio in way over their heads when they discover a mysterious being from another world who desperately needs their help.
This film is essentially a mashup of “E.T.” and “Super 8” with its coming-of-age characters, extraterrestrial life form and shaky camera work. This movie screams Disney and in the worst way, with seemingly forced acting just to keep the viewer’s attention. “Earth to Echo” includes bland child characters and the bad acting of an old-fashioned after-school special. At the same time, the movie is obnoxiously influenced by modern technology, in that it’s filmed in a way that makes it original, but unwatchable.
The gimmick is that the movie is shot as if on the central characters’ cell phones. The idea is that one year after the events depicted on screen, the characters got together and edited the footage they shot the year before, and the result was “Earth to Echo.” The footage from the phones is shifty and unsteady. When it does fix on an image, it’s often of another kid holding a cell phone.
One of the upsides to “Earth to Echo” is the little alien’s design. Big head, big blinking eyes, meaning cute and appealing to viewers. Also, there are two special-effects moments that are well done, including a shot of a truck disassembling and recombining. A similar effect on a grander scale shows metal parts swirling around in the sky, then forming into a spaceship. The film also stays to the redundant plot point when it comes to alien films: that the government cannot be trusted.
Everything is extremely drawn out, so the running time seems much longer. Much of the acting feels forced even for a kid movie, and though the movie leans hard on the emotional connection between the kids, the connection isn’t felt. The cell-phone-footage gimmick becomes tiring after an hour, and it’s as if there’s a barrier between the viewer and the story that never comes down.
There are cute moments with the alien, and the kids’ quest for a little independence and empowerment is sure to resonate with a younger audience. That said, there is no emotional impact because of mediocre writing and poor character development and acting.

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