Movie Review: ‘Earth to Echo’ misses the mark

“Earth to Echo” aims squarely at its preteen target audience; unfortunately, the film also feels like it was written by someone in that age group.

No, I take that back – it’s an insult to 12 year olds.

“Echo” is a sort of “E.T.” wannabe for the 21st century, with three middle-school students working to enjoy their final night together when everyone in their prefab community is ordered to move (superhighway coming through!).

Their evening gets a jump-start when they discover a tiny, robotic alien who has crash-landed and, as usual, needs to rebuild his spaceship; meanwhile, the usual amorphous government workers pursue the usual harmless visitor with the usual brainless malice (see “Starman,” “E.T.,” “Iron Giant,” etc.).

I’m willing to spot a film like this some preposterousness, but as Echo leads the children from place to place, attempting to reconstruct a “key” to his vessel, I was often unable to figure out what was happening – because so little of it made sense.

One huge problem: If the lovable alien could fly 100 million light-years, understand English and find all necessary parts in such places as a barn, an arcade and a girl’s bedroom, then I don’t understand why he would need help from hyperactive preteens.

Another absurdity is the way the three pals (together with an appealing female friend who joins them) are constantly able to escape adult pursuit by the simple expedient of running. Or riding bikes. Really fast, I guess.

Instead of coherent plotting, “Echo” is more interested in playing up its preadolescent milieu of jolly wisecracks, friendship above all, awkwardness around girls and mastery of technology (the entire film purports to be footage from the boys’ cameras and phones).

After about 40 minutes of repeatedly thinking “But wait!”, I finally gave up, trying instead to be content with “Echo’s” decent performances and upbeat outlook.

Indeed these are its sole redeeming values; while all the teen actors come across as genuine and likable, Reese Hartwig is especially strong as Munch, and so is Ella Wahlestedt as Emma, who proves vital to the boys’ quest; she’s refreshingly “ungirly” – though I felt she acquiesced too quickly to the devastation of her tidy bedroom.

And even though I’ve insulted the film’s preadolescent mindset, that also helps sustain interest – the “we’ll-never-die” fortitude that finally enables their success.

Which then elicits the following moral, pronounced upon their separation: “Distance is just a state of mind; if you’re best friends, then you always will be, no matter where you are in the universe.”

Sigh. How I wish this were as true as it sounds.

Like much else here, it will nonetheless resonate with its target audience; for those who prefer more realistic preteen capers, Stick with “Stand by Me.”

3 stars out of 4

Rated PG for some action and peril, and mild language.