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Thursday, July 3, 2014

Earth to Echo Review: Sterilized for an Emotionally Unsatisfying Experience

The pleasant but emotionally hollow Earth to Echo is more Frankenstein than ET.


Echo centers around 3 boys and their 'found footage' adventure to locate the source of an odd radio wave affecting their cellphones and other mobile devices. Their neighborhood will soon be knocked down to build a freeway, but Tuck (Brian “Astro” Bradley), foster kid Alex (Teo Halm) and “acquired taste” Munch (Reese Hartwig) set off on their bikes the night before everyone is to move to investigate the anomaly. What they find are pieces of a starship shot down by an agency claiming to be the freeway company, who's more than interested in discovering its whereabouts. The pilot - a tiny but adorable robot later called Echo - just wants to return home, and so the trio head off to rescue the alien, piece together the ship, and band together once more before their friendship comes to an end.


Few might not care about the backstory of Echo's development, but Disney's decision to quietly sell this script around 2012 seems well-founded. This is a Frankenstein-ed affair with the script by Henry Gayden stealing elements of ET, Goonies, Gremlins, Wall-E, and even Explorers. Director Dave Green has scrubbed so much of the action clean that even the found-footage style hides more action than it shows. As a result there is zero sense of danger, with the kids and Echo's movements never creating enough tension that would have allowed the picture to elevate beyond its interesting premise. Green does allow some ad-libbing along the way, which is some of the film's best moments. But from the moment we realize that Echo is in the picture, it becomes sadly one-dimensional: find the ship, get Echo home.

Our three leads are good enough, but at the same time don't screw anything up - if you can read between those lines, you'll notice that we weren't exactly thrilled with their performances. But it's the script that once again fails to give them anything meaty to do except achieve the next goal, quickly turning things procedural as their roles remain predictable throughout. Any chance for boys to be boys is lost so often that its missed opportunities pile up like cordwood behind a house.


What should have been the next chapter of ET becomes an exercise in keeping your food down as the POV rockets back and forth as Echo slowly reassembles his starship. Speaking of him, Relativity takes the one thing that audiences didn't need to see in the trailers and posters - the loveable alien - and instead plasters it on every one of those mediums, as if they knew that no one would see this picture if they didn't parade it out for us to ogle over. Boy were they right: Echo is paper thin in the character department, making comparisons between R2-D2 and ET pointless. The humans are almost as bad, featuring more adults characterized as either out of touch parents or just plain mean than we've seen from a kids movie. They're nothing more than flat, unsympathetic things for the kids to ignore, manipulate, or mock on their way to making contact with Echo.

But so many questions about the backstory remain that audiences are sure to be scratching their heads afterwards. We fail to learn why Echo was here in the first place, how long it's been since his ship was shot down, and why the mean adult freeway dudes don't just use radar to locate the ship which has always been under their feet. Even the end-credits scene - which suggests our friends will be back soon with another adventure - feels out of place because the kids are exact age as they were when the adventure began. The story suggests that gather again a few years later, but none of them have aged.


Earth to Echo is pleasant enough, maybe even a tad entertaining; but its lack of a soul or emotional power makes the entire affair feel sterilized. If you're looking for homogenized entertainment that's easy to drink and is entirely inoffensive, then this one is for you. But with plenty of better age-appropriate material out there, we think Earth to Echo doesn't hold a candle to them. Look for this one to disappear under the explosions and big epic pictures still hanging around that probably deserve more of your family's time.

Earth to Echo is rated PG for some action and peril, and mild language and has a runtime of 91 minutes. Discuss this review with fellow SJF fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJohnFilms, and follow author Matt Cummings at @mfc90125.

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