‘Earth to Echo’ great for kids, despite lacking punch
By BILL ZWECKER Sun-Times Columnist July 2, 2014 10:46AM
Brian “Astro” Bradley, Ella Linnea Wahlstedt, Reese Hartwig and Teo Halm play teens helping a stranded alien in “Earth to Echo.” | Relativity Media
‘EARTH TO ECHO’ ★★1⁄2
Alex Teo Halm
Tuck Brian “Astro” Bradley
Munch Reese Hartwig
Emma Ella Linnea Wahlestedt
Relativity presents a film directed by Dave Green and written by Henry Gayden. Running time: 89 minutes. Rated PG (for some action and peril, and mild language). Now showing at local theaters.
Yes, “Earth to Echo” clearly draws on obvious inspiration from “E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial,” “Cloverfield,” “Super 8,” “The Blair Witch Project” and a number of other earlier films. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing, as most movies today are inspired and/or derivative of their predecessors.
So, the question here is how well first-time feature film director Dave Green presents the story of a tiny, mechanical alien who comes to earth and is aided by a quartet of teenagers intent on helping the creature they dub “Echo” return to his outer-space homeland.
The answer is: fairly well, though he could have done it better with an improved script. The saving grace for this film is the group of young actors he assembled to tell the tale.
The setup is simple. Aspiring filmmaker Tuck (Brian “Astro” Bradley) presents us with his raw video footage of an amazing couple of days he and his buddies spent uncovering a sci-fi experience most would find hard to believe. Tuck is a very self-assured, smart teen whose best friends are the socially awkward Munch (Reese Hartwig) and the handsome but shy Alex (Teo Halm), a foster kid constantly being bounced from home to home. Along with way they unintentionally snare the beautiful Emma (Ella Wahlestedt) as part of their group as they furiously bike into the desert near their Nevada homes, led by a “map” that mysteriously has “barfed up” (their term) on their smart phones.
The kids’ homes all have been condemned for demolition, ostensibly to make way for a major highway extension project. As we will learn, that’s a secret government cover-up for something far more sinister. While I won’t reveal what that is, let me just say that this is where “Earth to Echo” loses a lot of its storytelling punch. I know this is PG sci-fi moviemaking on a limited budget, but the climax of the story in this movie was so ridiculous, it made me groan.
The kids, however, are terrific — and the main reason to go see “Earth to Echo.” Astro and Hartwig in particular are true standouts and have solid careers in their future. They are natural actors with perfect comic timing, and yet can convey poignancy when it’s needed for the film’s various emotional moments.
Another problem for me was the look of Echo. Compared to the lovable ugliness of E.T., the mechanical, beeping owl that is Echo just didn’t do it for me. The tiny alien needed to be more engaging and appealing, and that was a key letdown.