Movie review: “Earth to Echo” disappoints with found-footage kids tale

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From the July 3, 2014 edition

“Earth to Echo” probably got a Hollywood pitch that was something like “It’s ‘E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial’ meets ‘The Blair Witch Project.’”

It aims to fill a summer void for a live-action, kid-friendly movie. I applaud that … except for the execution. It still makes me long for the ’80s heyday of movies like “E.T.,” “The Goonies,” etc.

But by employing the overplayed “found footage” style, it’s limited in its scope and ultimately not half the movie it could have been, despite some winning performances by its young actors.

Alex, Tuck and Munch (Teo Halm, Brian “Astro” Bradley, Reese Hartwig) are three best friends who live in the same suburban Nevada neighborhood. A highway expansion means their respective families are being pushed out of the neighborhood (a la “Goonies”).

As the clock ticks, aspiring videomaker Tuck wants to document the friends’ final adventure, as they investigate what’s causing strange behavior on area mobile devices.

This leads the boys on a bike ride into the desert where they find an alien (that looks like a robot, so wha?) who is trying to find his way back home.

The fact that “Earth to Echo” is derivative isn’t a deal-breaker. The last really good summer action movie with kid stars was “Super 8,” and it sure owed a debt to the movies of Steven Spielberg.

But “Echo” sets up these comparisons and then doesn’t deliver. You’ll find nothing like the bond between Elliot and E.T. here, although the movie just assumes it’s there because Echo is pretty cute (and, come to think of it, pretty derivative of the mechanical owl from “Clash of the Titans”).

But the biggest problem here is the found-footage angle. It’s cute they made Tuck a little filmmaker, but it also subjects us to 90 minutes of handheld cams, bike cams and even spy glasses cams. And there’s also the related exposition. “What was that? Did you see that?” Yes, we all saw that.

The shaky cam does make the digital effects feel more real (as it did in “Cloverfield”), so there’s that, and this is the rare family-friendly live-action movie.

But it should have been so much more.

Photo courtesy of Relativity Media