'Echo' needs to talk with E.T.

Staff writerJuly 4, 2014 

Brian “Astro” Bradley, Reese Hartwig, Teo Halm and Ella Wahlestedt star in “Earth to Echo.”

PATRICK WYMORE/RML ECHO FILMS

Earth to Echo

*

Cast: Teo Halm, Brian “Astro” Bradley, Reese Hartwig, Ella Wahlestedt, Jason Gray-Stanford

Director: Dave Green

Running time: 1:31

Rated: PG “Earth to Echo” won’t change the standard for kids’ films, despite first-person camera perspectives and an intriguing storyline.

Centered on three middle-school boys whose homes are about to be destroyed by highway construction, we start by getting to know their personalities: Alex, the quiet foster kid (Teo Halm); Tuck, the street-smart boy neglected by his family (Brian “Astro” Bradley), and Munch, the tech-savvy nerd (Reese Hartwig). Unified in their adolescent sense of loneliness, they form a plausible bond and seem believable enough.

When Tuck gets suspicious about the construction workers who seem less focused on highway building and more interested in the mysterious community zap that wipes out everyone’s cellphones, the boys become bicycle sleuths in a frenzied plot. One precious discovery leads to being pursued by vague government figures.

The next two acts of the film tumble forward in a semicoherent way, yet the story abandons any pretense of developing the characters of the boys we’re with throughout. They’re just running from one plot checkpoint to the next. To what extent we’re supposed to anticipate growth from middle-school boys in a kids’ adventure is up to your expectations, but it limits the film.

Emma (Ella Wahlestedt) is forcefully introduced into the film and referred to more as “Mannequin Girl” in primary dialogue than by her actual name. She follows a depressing trend of bold female characters who show up to save the protagonists and then end up, through poor script writing, on the sidelines as the film reaches its conclusion.

Mainstream Hollywood’s inability to deal with this problem is getting more awkward with each progressive year. Filmmakers can check the demographic box for gender representation, but is it really a family film if the perspective remains solely with the boys? Is it your family’s film?

The film’s special effects maintain that strange CGI sheen that leave nothing believable, and I assume the budget was tighter with Relativity involved as the primary production studio.

All of our interactions with the adorable alien Echo are seen nearly as much in the trailer as in the film itself. Behind-the-scenes reporting about the production process indicates that Disney was half-heartedly involved in the film and backed away from really funding it. Consider that as you weigh spending your family’s movie budget on this film.

Recommended for: Fifth- and sixth-grade boys.

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