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July 10, 2014

Earth To Echo: E.T. Meets The Wonder Years

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Written by: David Smallwood
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Earth To Echo

 

Starring:

Teo Halm

Brian “Astro” Bradley

Reese C. Hartwig

Ella Wahlestedt

(***)

It’s a big year for Brian “Astro” Bradley, until now most famously known for copping major attitude with Simon Cowell and then having a crying jag on Simon’s X Factor TV show as a 14-year-old back in 2011 – (google/youtube it!).

But this year, he’s a burgeoning entertainment force, debuting a couple of movies, including A Walk Among The Tombstones, which is a private detective drama with Liam Neeson releasing in September, and Red Band Society, a new Fox-TV ensemble series airing in the fall about sick kids growing up in a hospital’s pediatric ward.

But in this, his first feature film venture – Relativity Media’s Earth To Echo – Bradley is part of an inseparable trio of young teen boys growing up in Nevada, whose quaint suburban community is set to be demolished ostensibly because of a massive new highway construction project, which will force all the families to move away and the kids’ friendship to come to an end.

But a few days before demolition is set to begin, the boys – Alex, Munch and Bradley as “Tuck” – begin receiving strange signals on their individual cell phones that collectively appears to be a map, leading them out into the Nevada desert.

To mark the occasion of their looming breakup, the boys decide to go on one last adventure as bosom buddies – to trek out on their bikes to find the source of the phone signals and solve the mystery of the strange map.

Their long, after-dark journey leads them to a wild discovery: a small alien robot stranded on Earth whom the kids name Echo and whose spaceship parts are as scattered as the straw in the Wizard of Oz’s Scarecrow. Echo needs the kids to literally help him get his sh…stuff together, and his signals to their cellphones are locator indicators of where various parts can be found.

By happenstance, one of the objects is in the house of Emma, the hot girl at school, who when she catches the boys in her room, joins them to form a quartet that spends the rest of the night searching for more parts and protecting Echo from the highway construction workers – who are obviously government agents aware of Echo’s existence and trying to track him and his spaceship down for the government’s usual nefarious purposes.

The film’s point of view is shown through a variety of camera footage, most notably Tuck’s – he’s out to record the night’s adventure for posterity and has an assortment of video equipment, including bike cams, cellphone footage, handhelds and Google glasses cameras.

-2It’s all technologically-hip looking if you’re a youngish kid enthralled with a variety of mobile devices, and this is, in fact, exactly whom the movie is aimed for – if you’re 13 years old, come on down; you’ve got a winner!

The kids in the movie are about that age – junior high schoolers, trying to find their way, learn about life and friendship and growing up, with older siblings who rag on them, but also show kindnesses. In case you didn’t know this, Tuck delivers a running monologue about it all throughout the movie, ala the unseen narrator in the iconic TV series The Wonder Years, which chronicles a pre-teen Fred Savage coming of age.

In Earth to Echo, there are a number of these aspects, particularly an over-focus on main character Alex, a foster kid with abandonment issues whose story line about leaving his friends and Echo being stranded and alone almost borders on melodrama.

The movie also looks at first romances, first kisses, lies about first kisses and hope about eternal friendships that defy geographical separation, which seems possible at that age before the rigors and reality of adulthood get in the way.

In the meantime, you have the main story line about E.T. – uh, Echo – trying to get back home. They keep making these young kid-sci-fi movies trying to find a clone as lovable as E.T., but there’s only the one and the original. Echo, in fact, looks like a cross between an owl and The Great Gazoo, the tiny green floating alien banished to Earth on The Jetsons cartoon show – and Gazoo has far more personality than Echo shows in this film.

But Earth To Echo is a good enough summer family entertainment. As an adult you might be nitpicking, thinking, “Sheesh, the bike rides these kids have to take around Nevada in one night to find Echo’s various parts would put the hurts even on Lance Armstrong.”

The movie, however, moves along rather well, and there’s a great special effect that nicely handles an unavoidable, deadly head-on car-truck collision that portends what’s coming for the movie’s whiz-bang finale.

Astro Bradley as Tuck comes off at times as a bit prickly, and I don’t think that was written into the character…maybe more of the young actor’s X Factor ‘tude. But if you really want to see this movie done well, rent Super 8, the 2011 film with a similar plot – teen friends, bikes, cameras and an alien – that’s far more entertaining.

I took my three teen daughters to see Earth To Echo and it was spot-on for the 13-year-old, who gave it a B-plus. The 15-year-old was a little less kind, and the 17-year-old had it down to the C-level grade, but all three of them confessed to “having something in their eye” at the movie’s bittersweet ending, and that’s a good thing.



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David Smallwood





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