Tuck (Brian “Astro” Bradley), Munch (Reese C. Hartwig) and Alex (Teo Halm) are BFFs, inseparable preteens who are about to have their lives upended. Construction of a new highway is scheduled to flatten their Nevada neighborhood and we meet them on the eve of their last day together.
Before they can schedule their final sleepover, however, strange things start happening—their iPhones start “barfing up” weird images of maps on their screens. Perplexed, they set out on an adventure to see where these strange phone signals will lead them. Their journey takes them to the desert where they find some sort of space gizmo—not a robot but an injured life form from above—that resembles a cute intergalactic baby owl.
Lost and alone, the creature, named Echo for his habit of responding with mechanical beeps to the boy’s speech, needs the kid’s help to find his spaceship and get back home. With the help of Emma (Ella Wahlestedt), a resourceful classmate, they spend their last night helping Echo and trying to piece together the connection between the highway construction and the mysterious goings-on in their neighborhood.
I suppose the found footage gimmick is meant to add intensity to the story, or be a novel promotional tool for the movie, but in the execution, mostly just leaves the viewer feeling seasick. The gimmick doesn’t add much to the storytelling, except the standard found footage explanation of how and why they’re going to manage to document everything that’s going to happen that night. (In case you’re curious these children have spyglasses, camcorders and GoPro portable cameras.) Next time out I’d prefer a locked down camera on a tripod and less teaching for the Gravol.
Stylistic choices aside, “Earth to Echo” is amiable but not terribly exciting. It has a distinct direct-to-video vibe, despite at least one eye-popping sequence of a truck being dismantled and reassembled. Story wise it plays it safe, to the point of being bland, without any of the grit that made kid’s adventures like “Goonies” and ”Gremlins” so much fun.