If the “Earth to Echo” poster seems reminiscent of the one for “E.T.,” that’s probably no accident.
The heartwarming 1982 fantasy about a 10-year-old boy who helps an alien head home just landed at No. 8 on The Hollywood Reporter’s survey of the best 100 movies of all time. That put it ahead of “Star Wars,“ “Gone With the Wind” and “Lawrence of Arabia.”
Starring: Brian “Astro” Bradley, Teo Halm, Reese Hartwig.
Rating: PG for some action and peril, and mild language.
Now, along comes “Earth to Echo” from first-time feature director Dave Green about three boys about to lose their suburban Nevada family homes and their friendship to freeway construction. They decide to have one last grand adventure and, unexpectedly, discover they’re not powerless after all as they try to safeguard an alien that looks like a small metallic owl with round blue eyes.
Tuck (Brian “Astro” Bradley) lives in the shadow of an older brother but with a camera or phone in his hands at all times. “I’ve never gone a day without seeing my friends. They’re like the only people in the whole world who get me,” he says, worrying about what the leveling of their neighborhood will mean.
Alex (Teo Halm) is a foster child who’s been shuffled around a lot, while Munch (Reese Hartwig) is a sweet oddball who acknowledges, “I’m a bit of an acquired taste.”
Riding bikes (and wearing helmets in a nice bid for safety), they sneak out into the nearby desert for their last night together, looking for the mysterious source of phone disruption that one describes as, “my iPhone barfed.” Turns out their phones function as maps and they discover, after some false starts, an alien they name Echo and communicate with through a series of yes and no questions with beeps for answers.
It’s up to the boys — and popular female classmate Emma (Ella Linnea Wahlestedt) who unexpectedly joins them — to keep Echo safe from nefarious strangers who want to do them and the outsider harm.
The movie, which capitalizes on the topical gimmick of Tuck trying to document everything, shows how three outcasts can help another outsider and how empowering their actions are. “When you’re a kid, you think you’re invisible,” Tuck says. “You think you can’t make a difference.” The movie shows otherwise.
Is it another “E.T.”? No, but what is?
“Earth to Echo,” from writer Henry Gayden and producer Andrew Panay who wanted to recapture the spirit of “E.T.,” “The Goonies” and “Stand by Me,” has nothing that can approach the magic of Elliott’s bicycle flying through the air or the tearful turn when E.T. is dying or even the instantly identifiable John Williams’ score.
But it features three solid leads and special effects that start off sort of cheesy but grow more impressive by the end. It probably will hit the sweet spot for school-age children and tweens along with young teens the same age (roughly 13) as the characters.
It reminds moviegoers that if you’re best friends, you will be no matter where you are in the universe. And it does so within the family friendly framework of a PG rating.
Movie editor Barbara Vancheri: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1632. Read her blog: www.post-gazette.com/madaboutmovies.