Earth to Echo (2014), director Dave Green’s feature debut, admirably attempts to recreate the classic family adventure films of the eighties, but instead delivers an uneven mishap that comes up short on heart, soul and – in particular – originality. Forced to leave their neighbourhood because of a new highway construction project, best friends Tuck (Brian Bradley), Alex (Teo Halm) and Munch (Reese Hartwig) lie to their parents in order to spend their last night together. But when they start receiving unexplained message on their mobile phones, the trio set off into the desert to discover the source – a compact android called Echo. If any of the aforementioned sounds familiar, that’s because it sadly is.
Earth to Echo, based on a story written and further developed for the screen by Henry Gayden, scrapes together elements from such classic eighties family adventures as Steven Spielberg’s seminal E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982), The Goonies (1985) and Stand by Me (1986), and repackages them insufficiently. Instead of forging a cohesive narrative that rides on its own merits, Gayden relies instead on nostalgia to charm audiences. It’s not enough though, and Earth to Echo falls by the wayside as a result. It lurches forward in spits and spurts, with the pace slowing down to a dull roar for large stretches of over-the-top sentimentality in which the boys reflect on their friendship or attempt to communicate with Echo, whose design is sleek in an otherwise unmemorable kid’s fable.
Elsewhere, a love interest for Alex is thrown into the fold, only to then be left to her own devices for the remainder of the film. There’s no structure here whatsoever. No thought process seems to have been invested into making Earth to Echo unique. In fact, the film’s main quirk – that it’s shot on handheld cameras through a mash-up of the boys’ own personally captured footage – is badly handled and offers up no enhancements whatsoever beyond the fact that it allows Green to employ some occasionally neat camera angles and map stylings. The biggest issue, however, is the chemistry between the three leads, which is almost non-existent. It’s all well and good to say that the actors are relatively new to the field, but when the film rests entirely on their shoulders, it’s simply not enough for their acting and camaraderie to be at best passable. For that reason alone, even if Earth to Echo had been a bit better conceived, it still wouldn’t have worked.