What's not to like about this affable coming-of-age close encounter of the nerd kind?
The science-fiction fantasy "Earth to Echo" contains abundant narrative echoes from such hits as "E.T. -- The Extra-Terrestrial," "Goonies" and "Stand by Me" with a strong dose of "Batteries Not Included."
"Earth to Echo"★ ★ ½
Starring: Teo Halm, Brian "Astro" Bradley, Reese C. Hartwig, Ella Linnea Wahlestedt
Directed by: Dave Green
Other: A Relativity Media release. Rated PG. 89 minutes
"Earth to Echo" is the pleasant, family-friendly feature directorial debut of music video and shorts director Dave Green, who fashioned this admittedly derivative movie as a nostalgic throwback.
The story, narrated by young Tuck (Brian "Astro" Bradley), begins when a highway construction project forces several families out of their homes.
That means best buds Tuck, Munch (Reese C. Hartwig) and Alex (Tio Halm) have just enough time for the adventure of their lifetimes when something funky goes wrong with their cellphones, prompting the trio to search for the source of the disruptive signal.
It will ruin nothing at this point to reveal that the source is a lovable little alien the kids name Echo. (Commercials and trailers have already destroyed this surprise for us.) Imagine a metallic version of the mogwai from "Gremlins."
Wouldn't you know it, those suspicious-looking construction crews are government agents looking for Echo.
Now, Tuck, Alex and Munch must use all their smarts to get their new buddy home. Wherever that might be.
Fate throws them a pleasant curveball when the school's elusive popular girl Emma (played as a social rebel by Ella Linnea Wahlestedt) helps the boys in their quest.
Normally, this would be an opportunity for an awkward romantic subplot, but Emma's appearance feels more like a marketing gimmick than a narrative enhancement here.
Green has a real knack for allowing his kid actors to act like real kids, with their insecurities and manufactured bravado on full overdrive. Still, Green, operating from Henry Gayden's screenplay, fails to establish a separate identity for his movie outside of its obvious film inspirations.
"Earth to Echo" impressively begins as a "found footage" work, where Tuck's video cameras (including lenses mounted on his bike and planted in his hornrim glasses) capture the trio's adventures in real time. This "Blair Witch Project" device drives the story with immediacy and documentarylike "you are there" realism.
But Green can't sustain the format. Halfway through, he succumbs to Hollywood conventions (an orchestral score, a song montage) and resorts to absurd camera placements that defy common sense.
(Exactly how did Tuck obtain video footage apparently shot through the alien's eyes? Whaaaat?)
Call it a case of "confounding footage."