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Movie review: 'Earth to Echo' phones it in

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Earth to Echo

Rating:
Star2
Star
Star
Star
Star

Just stop it with the comparisons to Steven Spielberg's E.T. (the Extra-Terrestrial). The new, lame, exhausting, senseless Earth to Echo (opening today), is about a group of kids who find and befriend an alien being and then attempt to get him back to his home planet (speaking of intentional similarities they hope you draw on, check out the "extended finger" imagery on the Earth to Echo poster). But Earth to Echo doesn't deserve any other mention to Spielberg's classic family film. It's not nearly even in the same league, category, or (pun intended) universe when it comes to spirit, acting, purpose, story-telling or even watch-ability.

Of course, that would be big shoes to fill anyways. Not many films are E.T. So to put it in the proper perspective, Earth to Echo is not good by any standards. Save the likeability of the young child actors at the center of the story, there is not much at all to write (or phone) home about.

The story is told from the annoying point of view of young Tuck (Brian "Astro" Bradley), with the entirety of the film that we are watching supposedly coming from footage that Tuck shot (think Blair With Project or Cloverfield as far as visual style). He has a Sony camcorder, some spy-cam glasses and a series of GoPro cameras attached to his and his friends bikes and he conveniently records every waking minute of their lives. We find Tuck and his two closest buds, the nerdy Munch (Reese Hartwig) and the too-suave-for-his age foster child, Alex (Tao Halm), a week away from moving away from the town they grew up in. None of them are happy to leave, but they are being forced out of their community because a new highway project is being built.

Then one day, everybody's cell phone in town takes a "puke," where they begin spazzing out and showing weird images and static. The three friends identify the images as a map, and they sneak out on their last night together to find out what the map leads to. They eventually discover that it leads to an injured robotic alien that they call "Echo," because it has the ability to echo their sounds and words. Or, it could be a knowing wink to the audience that everything in this film is just a cheap "echo" of ideas and scenes that have come before it, and have been much better.

Echo is a cute, cuddly little robot-thingy that looks like a cross between a Ferby and the robotic owl from Clash of the Titans. It needs to find its spaceship so it can return to its home planet, but the spaceship is buried underneath their town, even though a group of construction workers who seem to not really be construction workers mention that they shot the ship down recently. So how is it buried if they shot it down? Why is Echo here and what was his mission? What the heck is going on?

Please don't look for answers in Earth to Echo. They are scarce. This is one of the worst, poorly-conceived scripts to ever see the light of day, directed by a first-time feature-film director (Dave Green) who clearly shows his lack of experience. Coupled with the motion-sickness-inducing, first-person camera work, this was one of the more tedious movie-going experiences in my career as a film critic (a side question: Just because a person owns a camera and isn't a professional, does that mean that they are incapable of holding the camera steady for even a second? Why the constant earthquake motion?)

The story builds towards mind-boggling conclusions, the effects are sub-par and the alien itself is uninteresting. This is a film where all adults are clueless and stupid, but not quite as stupid as any potential bad guys. The three friends are one-dimensional cliches, with only Munch being slightly amusing (although the character, actor and performance are an echo themselves, of Robert Capron's character, Rowley, in the Diary of a Wimpy Kid movies). When it reaches scenes towards the end that are supposed to be filled with emotion, there is a cheap, emptiness, because the film didn't earn any of it.

Earth to Echo's premise will remind you of E.T. and even Super 8 - two far superior films - but it barely should have found release on Video on Demand. It is better suited for the Disney Channel. Saving it from the lowly one-star rating? The effort by the young actors who will forever be attached to this film. They better hope that the film's motto - that distance is a state of mind - applies to this film in relation to the the rest of their careers.

Genre: Adventure, Family, Sci-Fi

Run Time: 1 hour, 29 minutes, Rated PG

Starring: Teo Halm, Astro, Reeses Hartwig, Ella Wahlestedt, Jason Gray-Stanford

Directed by Dave Green (feature film directorial debut)

Opens locally on Wednesday, July 2, 2014 (check for show times).

Be sure to watch Tom Santilli on TV! Check your local listings for “Movie Show Plus” for Tom’s weekly movie review segment.

How to read Tom Santilli's "Star Ratings:"

  • 5 Stars: Exceptional, must-see movie
  • 4 Stars: Very good movie, not without flaws
  • 3 Stars: The movie was just OK, leaves a lot to be desired
  • 2 Stars: Pretty bad, a let-down, disappointing, but with some redeeming qualities
  • 1 Star: Awful, sloppy, a total waste of time
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