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Movie Review: 'Earth to Echo' (2014)

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While the child actors all give admirable performances in “Earth to Echo,” the dialogue and plot fail to capture the creativity and suspense their predicament promises. Finding an alien life form and helping it return home has been explored before, and with far greater imagination, poignancy, and artistry. Every adult character contributes only to contrivances; adversaries more inept and lackluster than those found in “Earth to Echo” would be difficult to locate. The childish humor that pervades much of the setup will appeal to younger crowds, but seasoned moviegoers will cringe at the fatigued “found footage” style of storytelling and its routinely lazy eluding of calamity by simply jumping ahead to the next scene (via hasty cuts, technical glitches, or distorted imagery).

When the state’s plans to build a highway through the small town of Mulberry Woods, Nevada forces everyone to leave the neighborhood, best friends Tuck (Astro), Alex (Teo Halm), and Munch (Reese Hartwig) determine to have an adventure on their last night together. Following an enigmatic map displayed on their smartphones, the trio heads out into the desert and discovers a mysterious hunk of metal buried in the dirt. When the object suddenly springs to life to reveal a tiny robotic being inside, the inquisitive children attempt to communicate with the alien. Learning that “Echo” is injured and in need of the youths’ aid, Tuck, Alex, and Munch determine to assist their newfound friend in a quest that will change all of their lives forever.

It’s quite fortunate that Tuck is preoccupied with zooming in on faces and expressions (including his own) while significant events unfold in front of the group. Somehow, in the midst of harrowing actions, he thinks to film his pals running toward his camera instead of worrying about his own escape. It’s also undeniably lucky that Echo, who commandeers various cellphones to use for vision in place of his damaged optics, manages to simultaneously record the things he sees. If not for these and many other coincidences, there would be no movie at all. It’s particularly lamentable that the found footage genre is so incredibly tired and overwrought that all anyone can think about is how the film couldn’t possibly have been constructed solely through spontaneous, live recording – let alone all the fancy editing, graphics, and soundtrack components necessary to render the final picture (in this case, seemingly assembled by a single teenager).

The script tries so painstakingly to be modern and hip (like an “E.T” for technologically advanced imbeciles) that it forgets it’s supposed to be a document of real human interactions. In the guise of a coming-of-age escapade, the children accomplish startlingly unconvincing feats, fuss with overdramatic dialogue, ludicrously recruit the surprisingly attainable girl-next-door (Ella Wahlestedt as Emma), avoid arrest, and are apprehended by similarly unrealistic government dopes who moronically force the youths to help in their extraterrestrial seizure mission. And as the foursome journeys across town in their own scavenger hunt (orchestrated by an annoyingly unintelligent life form who plots the most backwards methods of obtaining spaceship materials), strained concepts of friendship, abandonment, the inability of teenagers to impact the ignorant adults around them, and adolescent rebellion, routinely cripple the film’s ability to transcend the realm of recycled, family-friendly foolishness. Even without the nonstop handheld camerawork, “Earth to Echo” wouldn’t be salvageable.

- The Massie Twins (GoneWithTheTwins.com)

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