Aimed, presumably, at young audiences who have never been exposed to a 32-year-old Steven Spielberg movie about a homesick extraterrestrial, Dave Green’s Earth to Echo flaunts its obvious influences with all the fresh novelty of an app update.
While the method of storytelling has been given a fitting technological upgrade, everything regarding this sci-fi adventure, right down to the movie poster, is blatant regarding its intentions: It clearly sees itself as E.T. for the Y2K set.
Still, give novice feature director Green and screenwriter Henry Gayden credit for more than just audacity — despite all those echoes of classic ’80s sci-fi fantasy adventures, Earth to Echo proves engaging in its own right.
Credit a youthful, energetic spirit, nicely conveyed by its cast of naturally acting newcomers, a workable raw-footage construct and a spare but smartly spent special effects budget for the satisfying end result.
Getting a jump on the Fourth of July holiday weekend, the well-positioned Relativity Media release (which was acquired from Disney) could generate some noticeable sparks by claiming the family-friendly PG slot all to itself.
The 89-minute film cuts quickly to the chase as the lives of teenage longtime best buddies Tuck (Brian “Astro” Bradley), Munch (Reese Hartwig) and Alex (Teo Halm) are about to be uprooted with a new highway development scheduled to level their suburban Nevada neighborhood.
But as they spend one final night together before the mass exodus, their cell phones start “barfing” up what appears to be maps and other gibberish, and the trio suspects something else could be responsible for attracting all those shifty-looking construction folks.
Their attempts at deciphering the images take them to the middle of the desert where a strange-looking cylinder embedded in the ground next to a transformer soon yields a frightened, wide-eyed inhabitant — no Reese’s Pieces required.
Even the previously uninitiated will know where all this is headed. Aside from the primary source of inspiration, you’ll also find bits of everything from The Goonies to Super 8 woven not-so-subtly into the Earth to Echo tapestry.
But having the characters’ constant reliance on video recording, texting and various forms of social-media-driven communication keeps it all in and of the moment, and that’s also true of the contemporary dialogued delivered by its likable young cast.
As for the homesick little alien they’ve come to name Echo — c’mon, who can resist something that looks like a metallic owl bobblehead with glowing neon-blue eyes and speaks in cute electronic chirps?
Sometimes even the most shameless of knockoffs can’t be denied.
Production company: Panay Films
Cast: Teo Halm, Brian “Astro” Bradley, Reese Hartwig, Ella Linnea Wahlestedt
Director: Dave Green
Screenwriter: Henry Gayden
Producers: Andrew Panay, Ryan Kavanaugh
Executive producers: Tucker Tooley, Ron Burkle, Jason Colbeck, Mark B. Johnson, Robbie Brenner, Jack Kavanaugh, Dave Miller
Director of photography: Maxime Alexandre
Production designer: Kasra Farahani
Costume designer: Judianna Makovsky
Editors: Crispin Struthers, Carsten Kurpanek
Composer: Joseph Trapanese
Rated PG, 89 minutes