** (out of four)
RedEye features editor Dana Moran initially thought I was going to a movie called “Earth Taco.” Immediately, I wished that to be true. Then the film, only somewhat more sensibly called “Earth to Echo,” would have initials that reference its blatant ripping off of “E.T.” Also, when a movie is titled “Earth Taco,” it doesn’t matter what it’s about. (And what the hell would it be about?)
No, the family-friendly “Earth to Echo” pretends its story about kids who stumble across an extraterrestrial who just wants to go home is as original as its poster of a finger pointing at an alien. Henry Gayden’s only other film writing credit is a short called “Ham Sandwich.” To say that he wrote “Earth to Echo” seems a little generous. Let’s just say he watched “E.T.,” “Chronicle” and “Super 8,” and thought of a way to capitalize.
His feature writing debut—directed by Dave Green, helmer of “Ham Sandwich”—is a pastiche of big-screen adolescent adventures, blending ‘80s tropes (one of the kids is nicknamed “Munch”) and the modern, already-stale found footage approach. That content comes from the camera of Tuck (an actor credited only as Astro on IMDB), one of several 13-year-olds clinging to friendships they fear won’t last after residents are forced from their homes so a freeway can be built. Their last night turns memorable after Tuck, Munch (Reese Hartwig) and Alex (Teo Haim) follow mysterious maps on their phones and discover a squeaky, robot owl-looking thing they call Echo. Since this creature assumedly saw “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly,” it quickly understands that one beep means “Yes” and two beeps means “No,” allowing it to communicate. The requisite girl (Ella Wahlestedt) eventually turns up, mostly to expose Tuck’s lie about kissing her after pre-algebra.
No complaints about the young actors’ performances or the way “Earth to Echo” looks. One late moment, in which Echo deconstructs large vehicles to avoid an accident, is pretty cool. But the movie’s just so familiar and low-stakes, keeping its conspiracy to frustratingly underwritten PG levels. “Edge of Tomorrow” showed how to have a degree of fun by mashing together well-known predecessors (“Groundhog Day” and “Starship Troopers”). “Earth to Echo” is no “Mac and Me”-level abomination, but it would have been better as a “South Park” episode.
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