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Thursday, July 3, 2014 12:01 am

Earth an echo of other better films

A scene from Earth to Echo.


When does a film, obviously inspired by another, segue from being a homage to a blatant rip-off? If a story has a similar plot but some narrative changes, is it considered a variation on a theme or is it really the work of someone with little imagination? I think it’s going to rain. Did I roll the windows up on my car?

Those were the questions rattling around in my mind as I tried to stay interested in Dave Green’s Earth to Echo, a blatant copy of Steven Spielberg’s E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. Echo also steals – sorry, borrows – elements from J.J. Abrams’ Super 8. Squarely pitched to ’tweens, at the exclusion of everyone else, the film seems far longer than its 90 minutes. It contains few surprises, what with going over the well-worn narrative territory that it does.

Having been told their families will have to move because the subdivision where they live is being wiped out to make room for a freeway, friends to the end Munch (Reese Hartwig), Alex (Teo Halm) and Tuck (Astro) are all dealing with varying levels of depression. Bad enough that they’re all outcasts at school but they each have their own issues to contend with. Munch’s parents have just gone through a divorce, Alex is a foster child with abandonment issues and Tuck suffers from low self-esteem. And though they’re loyal to one another, their friendship will be tested when they stumble upon an alien they dub Echo who’s stranded on Earth and needs their help to return to its home world.

Constructed as a scavenger hunt, the three pals take their new alien pal, a metallic owl-like creature that bears more than a passing resemblance to Bubo from the original Clash of the Titans, to various locations to track down parts of the key needed to start his spacecraft. Yeah, it’s pretty simple as plots go, yet screenwriter Henry Gayden manages to muck it all up by playing fast and loose with issues of time and geography. The boys’ adventure involves them riding their bikes from one town to the next and back again, a distance of some 40 miles round trip. Along the way they stop at a pawnshop, two houses, an arcade, a bar and a junkyard, all seemingly during normal business hours – if those hours stretched to two in the morning. It simply doesn’t make sense and neither does a sequence where our three heroes coincidentally break into the home of Emma (Ella Wahlestedt), a classmate they all have a crush on, where one of the key pieces Echo needs happens to be. Much eye-rolling occurred during this scene.

Granted, I am looking at this through the eyes of a slightly cynical adult who’s seen more than his fair share of bad movies. Kids less jaded than I will buy into this premise and be engaged from the get-go. Much of this will be due to the efforts of the young cast who they’ll identify with immediately. Hartwig is appealing from the start, blissfully unaware of his awkward nature, winning us over with his innocent smile and natural charm. Halm is very good as well, less demonstrative and at ease in front of the camera in a way that can’t be taught. This could be the beginning of a fruitful career for the young actor, while Wahlestedt has a sense of pluck and confidence that holds her in good stead. As for Astro, pulling back a bit while on screen would be his best move.

While Echo is a harmless piece of entertainment and will succeed in amusing its target audience, its derivative nature lends credence to the notion that there’s little new coming out of Hollywood.

Contact Chuck Koplinski at ckoplinski@usd116.org.

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