"Earth To Echo" echoes several summer sci-fi and coming-of-age movies, notably "Cloverfield" (2008), "The Goonies" (1985), "Stand By Me" (1986), "E.T." (1982) and "American Graffiti" (1973).
While "Earth To Echo" is derivative, it is "the" discovery of the 2014 summer movie season so far, with performances by four pre-teen relative unknowns in their big-screen leading role debuts.
"Earth To Echo" is simply a lot of fun. It's uncomplicated, unassuming and naive in its story of teen-age angst. It can be enjoyed by young and old alike.
In "Earth To Echo," three pre-teen friends are together for the last time. That's because the family of Alex (Teo Halm) is moving from the Nevada subdivision where the teens' families live.
In voiceover narration by Tuck (Brian "Astro" Bradley), we learn about the youths' problems, mostly having to do with parents who seem aloof and preoccupied, and also who is making the biggest impression on the popular girl Emma (Ella Wahlestedt, TV's "Army Wives," 2013) during lunch-time in the school cafeteria.
It's probably not their buddy, Reginald, nicknamed Munch (Reese Hartwig), the intense and very bright nerd of the group.
When the youths' cell phones begin receiving strange signals and displaying mysterious maps, the youths hop on their bicycles to see where the maps lead them.
They discover a metallic cylinder containing an owl-like robot. They name the creature Echo because it answers their questions with one beep for "yes" and two beeps for "no."
The youths aren't the only ones interested in Echo. Government scientists are very interested in capturing Echo.
"Earth To Echo" is an ingenious mix of low-tech digital video and cell-phone camera cinematography with high-tech special effects.
The youths, who are not without their differences, bond. The young actors are exceptionally realistic in their portrayals.
Director Dave Green, in his big-screen directorial debut, has fun fooling the movie-goer, and provides just enough chills, thrills and laughs. We follow the teens to a pawn shop, a redneck bar and a young adult house party.
The screenplay is by Henry Gayden, in his big-screen screenplay debut, who cowrote the story with producer Andrew Panay.
"Earth To Echo" returns the movie-goer to a time when a bicycle took you to the edge of the world, or at least the edge of the cul de sac. Take a spin.
"Earth To Echo," MPAA rated PG (Parental Guidance Suggested. Some Material May Not Be Suitable For Children.) for some action and peril, and mild language; Genre: Adventure, Family, Science-Fiction; Run time: 1 hr., 29 min.; Distributed by Relativity Media.
Credit Readers Anonymous: Stay to the very end of the credits of "Earth To Echo" for a brief scene with Alex (Teo Halm), whose cell phone is acting up again.
Box Office, July 11: "Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes" swung into No. 1, opening with $73 million, eclipsing "Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes" (which opened with $54.8 million in 2011), making extinct "Transformers: Age of Extinction" two weeks-straight run at No. 1, which dropped to No. 2, with $16.5 million, $209 million, three weeks.
3. "Tammy," $12.9 million, $57.3 million, two weeks; 4. "22 Jump Street," $6.7 million, $171.9 million, five weeks; 5. "How To Train Your Dragon 2," $5.8 million, $152 million, five weeks; 6. "Earth To Echo," $5.5 million, $24.5 million, two weeks; 7. "Deliver Us From Evil," $4.7 million, $25 million, two weeks; 8. "Maleficent," $4.1 million, $221.9 million, seven weeks; 9. "Begin Again," $2.9 million, $5.2 million, three weeks; 10. "Jersey Boys," $2.5 million, $41.7 million, four weeks
Unreel, July 18:
"Planes: Fire & Rescue," PG: The "Planes" and "Cars" sequel takes to the air in the animated comedy.
"And So It Goes," PG-13: Rob Reiner directs Michael Douglas and Diane Keaton in a romantic comedy about a Realtor who asks his neighbor to help babysit his granddaughter.
"Wish I Was Here," R: Zach Braff ("Garden State," 2004) directs himself and Kate Hudson in the comedy-drama about a 35-year-old at a career and life crossroads.
"Sex Tape," R: Jake Kasdan ("Bad Teacher," 2011) directs Cameron Diaz and Jason Segal in a comedy about a married couple whose bedroom tape is missing.
"The Purge: Anarchy," R: A young couple tries to survive the annual purge in the horror-thriller sequel.
Read Paul Willistein's movie reviews at the Lehigh Valley Press web site, thelehighvalley-press.com; the Times-News web site, tnonline.com; and hear them on "Lehigh Valley Art Salon," 6 6:30 p.m. Mondays, WDIY 88.1 FM, and wdiy.org, where they're archived. Email PaulWillistein: email@example.com. You can follow Paul Willistein on Twitter and friend Paul Willistein on facebook.
Three Popcorn Boxes Out of Five Popcorn Boxes