Earth to Echo retreads more than one subgenre

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      Starring Teo Halm and Brian “Astro” Bradley. Rated G.

      I was trying to decide if I could write this whole review without using E or T, but this family-aimed film about youngsters who find an adorably stranded alien has those letters right in the title.

      It’s not just the Alphabet According to Spielberg at work here; Earth to Echo shamelessly mines the more benign elements of The Goonies, Gremlins, Super 8, and other supernatural-tween flicks to come up with (barely) its own take on the subgenre. First-time director Dave Green struggles to find a consistent tone to get the best out of Henry Gayden’s amiable but dimensionless script, which follows three suburban boys around a Nevada desert (actually California) that can’t help but recall the Arizona part of Spielberg’s childhood.

      The trio here is brooding foster kid Alex (Teo Halm), electronics nerd and “acquired taste” Munch (Reese Hartwig), and energetic Tuck (X Factor veteran Brian “Astro” Bradley), whose multicamera fixation helps justify the promotion of this JostleVision effort as a found-footage adventure (and one that will have some viewers sorry they didn’t bring barf bags). Character congruity and development is not a major feature, especially once our guys discover a small, robotically owl-like creature—whom they dub Echo—and realize, through various beeps and buzzes, that he’s trying to iPhone home, or something.

      As expected, there are zippy (if financially restrained) special effects and dark government forces who are also looking for Echo. In fact, that’s why the various parents—who have little narrative presence—were told they had to sell their homes and move away, thus sending our leading trio on their last bonding mission. At some point, the film’s producers must have decided to go beyond its self-limiting boys’ club, and the result tacks a neighbour girl onto the proceedings for purely cosmetic effect. In fact, Swedish-born Ella Wahlestedt is so arrestingly pretty, you can only worry about her future in Hollywood.

      There are a lot of weird creatures out in that desert.