It’s true: everything reminds us of something else these days. And since it’s near impossible to be even slightly original in Hollywood these days, it seems pointless to bemoan the derivative nature of a summer popcorn alien movie. Earth to Echo is without a doubt highly, highly derivative, brashly borrowing not only from 80s hallmarks such as The Goonies and E.T., but also calling to mind more recent classics like Wall-E. But, and it’s a big but – the film is pretty delightful just the same, in that it doesn’t try to be too many different things at once. It’s a found-footage sketch of sci-fi story featuring a group of good friends, the requisite pretty girl, and oh yeah, a cutesy alien robot thingy. And that’s it. There are not even that many special effects here: the ones that are present are fairly brilliant.
The main reason the film is so watchable, though, are the actors. This energetic bunch of young newcomers make this look easy, warming up to the concept and each other with a real sense of readiness and camaraderie. Reese Hartwig, as the stressed-out goodie two shoes member of the clique (his name is Munch in the film, which is another direct inspiration from the era of The Goonies and Chunk), is a particular standout, supplying both the comic relief and much of the emotional nuance. There is something undeniably nostalgic and inviting about his face, and we are excited to see what he does next.
After a Youtube-erific opening, we catch up with Munch, who along with his buddies Alex (actor Teo Halm, whom we interviewed last week!) and Tuck, begin receiving strange frequencies on their phones. When they deduce that the strange visuals are in fact a map, they strike out on a cross-desert bike ride in search of the source…which turns out to be none other than Echo, the beeping little alien robot who is on a mission he can’t complete on his own. While the similarities to E.T. get bigger and bigger, Earth to Echo continues along at a nice clip, never getting too bogged down in histrionics—the alien doesn’t learn how to talk and therefore many potentially cheesy moments are avoided. The filmmakers here are always finding new ways to package the found-footage idea, and as always, some strategies work better than others.
In the end, viewers might feel a little shortchanged with the lightness of the plot (there was a slight feeling of, “That’s it?” at the end), but word on the street is that there are plans to develop sequels which might give us some more insight into Echo, where he’s from and what he was doing in Earth’s neck of the woods. In the meantime, though, this ‘little’ popcorn movie definitely has its fun moments.