Drawing on the vast influence of great sci-fi pictures before it (E.T. being the most obvious), Dave Green's Earth to Echo tries to create an inspiring, moving film for the young generation. In a way, it works. In too many ways, it doesn't.
In Green's directorial debut, Earth to Echo tells the story of a group of boys, Munch, Alex and Tuck. Their neighbourhood is being demolished to make way for a new highway construction, which is forcing the boys to separate. A couple of nights before they move away, their phones begin receiving strange signals. They learn that one of the signals is pointing to a location, which contains maps of where to find something. That something is an adorable, friendly little alien, who crashed on Earth and needs help to find spare parts and rebuild his ship.
This charming but familiar story is revamped for modern times by the way of found-footage filming. I'm a huge fan of the style of filmmaking, but it seems to only get harder to pull off successfully. In this case, the kinetic direction robs the characters of a lot their intimacy. Also hampering the film's efforts to be taken seriously is the acting. Brian Bradley, a rapper who also goes by the name "Astro", plays Tuck. Tuck's character gets the most attention, simply because he's the one with the idea to film everything. Also, the kid can't act. This is his feature film debut, having already played a minor role in Person of Interest. He also had a role in A Walk Among the Tombstones starring Liam Neeson, and only served as an annoying detriment to that movie as well. His interaction with the other actors, Reese Hartwig (as Munch, who is almost as bad), and Teo Halm (as Alex, who seems to have a little bit of potential in him) is awkward and unconvincing. One of the main ingredients a found-footage film needs to work is unfamiliar faces, but casting kids with a little bit of experience would have gone a long way.
Another pet-peeve of mine when it comes to found-footage is the use of a score. What creates tension in a found-footage film is that we are made to believe that this actually happened. The events on screen need to speak for themselves. There is little to no suspense in this movie thanks to the John Williams knock-off score playing in the background.
With that being said, Earth to Echo has incredible special effects despite its modest budget. Despite most of the CGI going towards creating the little alien dude, there are a few action sequences which are expertly directed and show that you don't need all of the money in the world to create impressive visuals.
It's hard not to get sucked up into the film's optimism: A trio of gloriously naive children, a fun sense of Spielbergian adventure, and an endearing little alien. How could you not be swept along with the movie's whimsy?
Unfortunately, a cliched script and wooden acting get in the way of Earth to Echo's vibrant heart.