Review: Earth to Echo (2014)

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Director: Dave Green
Screenwriters: Henry Gayden & Andrew Panay
Cast: Teo Halm, Astro, Reese Hartwig, Ella Wahlestedt & Jason Gray-Stanford
Runtime: 91 min // Certificate: PG

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qc0X0rs-pvs]

A sweet, inoffensive and generally unassuming “family friendly” film, Earth to Echo riffs on a number of films from the decade that time forgot (also known as the eighties) but never manages to match their timeless charm or affability. Existing in an America of yesteryear, in which spirited, tech-savvy children still form unbreakable friendships, go on late night adventures and disobey authority in the name of their principles, the film plays with all the classic tropes of your typical small-town adventure movie, borrowing heavily from such classics as E.T. and The Goonies, but because it’s so glossy, so clean and so safe, it never feels like anything other than a cheap but passable knock-off of far superior material.

Set in Nevada, Earth to Echo follows three teenage friends – Alex (Halm), Tuck (Astro) and Munch (Hartwig) as they embark on what threatens to be their last ever group adventure. Forced to move home due to the construction of a highway through their innocent little suburb, the group spend their last night together investigating strange electronic activity in the Nevada Desert. Convinced that there is more to the highway construction than meets the eye, the three boys soon stumble upon a mysterious robotic alien creature – whom they nickname “Echo”, on account of his method of communication – and a conspiracy which threatens to destroy both their neighbourhood and, more importantly, their friendship forever more.

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At ninety minutes, Earth to Echo devotes little time to character development or plot, focussing instead on the simple journey upon which its three leads embark. Filmed in the style of a handheld video, it beats along inoffensively from A to B, tugging on the heartstrings with simple but meaningful proclamations about friendship and the importance of teamwork, before ending on a typically positive and non-threatening note. That there’s a complete absence of emotional drive to the screenplay is probably the film’s biggest fault, as it asks us to invest in three people about whom we know little and care even less, yet there’s enough family-friendly fun going on to keep you mildly entertained without ever pushing the bounds of credibility too much; at least, not insofar as a movie about an alien who wants to get home can remain with the bounds of credibility anyway.

Earth to Echo’s appeal rests almost entirely on the shoulders of its three leads, all of whom are likeable (after a while) and competently performed. The film packs no surprises and it relies far too heavily on cutesy dialogue and the general adorability of Echo to flog its wares, but it also does a decent enough job of treating its target audience – adolescents – with respect and doesn’t talk down to them or attempt to manipulate them. For the life of me I have no idea why Green decided to shoot the film the way he did because it adds absolutely nothing to the drama that couldn’t have been provided by a bit more character development or a tighter story, though as with all films like this you get used to it after a while, albeit against your better judgment.

In twenty years’ time, when ET is still considered a masterpiece and parents are sitting down to watch The Goonies with their children for the very first time, no one will even remember Earth to Echo. Nonetheless, it’s a solid enough summer film that doesn’t do anything particularly wrong. It’s generic, clichéd and much too saccharine for my liking, but it also has some heart and works well enough as a piece of throwaway ‘feel-good’ entertainment. Just don’t expect it to defy convention or expectation in any way and you might just enjoy it.

★★½

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