A plot that grafts together E.T., The Goonies, and Super 8 is destined to be overly cutesy and nostalgia-inducing, but at least it’ll be fun.
A group of friends living together in a upper-working-class/lower-middle-class suburban neighbourhood in Nevada face having to move elsewhere, and lose the friendships that have made their lives so rich in a way material gain has not, because a road is being built through their housing estate (The Goonies). While packing and hanging out, they learn that all the neighbourhood’s phones are ‘barfing’ (don’t worry, not literally) and refusing to work. So, they decide to spend their last night together trying to solve this mystery, lying to their parents about sleeping round each other’s houses and riding out into the desert on their bikes (kind of The Goonies again, really).
Once in the desert, they find an alien who is trying to rebuild its spaceship and fly home (kind of E.T.). This alien is being hunted by the road construction company (which it turns out is a front, but we never really learn what for) and so the wily adventurers must protect the alien (whom they name ‘Echo’) while trying to rebuild his spaceship and get both him and themselves safely home before morning so that their parents don’t find out.
Admittedly, none of this is original and the film is ultimately good fun but somewhat lacking overall and eventually forgettable, which is a shame because it is very entertaining, well-paced, and there are some good ideas in there. For example, unlike any of the films it is clearly influenced by, Earth to Echo uses the hoary ‘found-footage’ technique, but does something original and endearing with it.
The whole film is designed to look like a homemade/Youtube video created by the lead character, with narration and editing gags from him cropping up every now and then, a Youtube pause bar occasionally appearing on screen, and all footage apparently filmed by the characters on phone, handheld, bike and glasses cameras.
Yes, this shoots a hole in the half-baked attempt to characterise these as ‘not rich kids’, but it does mean the style is refreshed by being able to cut angles like a conventional film as all the characters are filming simultaneously, rather than one character running around with a lone camera, only cutting between scenes with jarring ‘camera off/camera on’ moments and generally being endlessly annoying.
Admittedly, none of this is original and the film is ultimately good fun but somewhat lacking overall
This film doesn’t do that; it trusts the actors with the cameras and lets them put them down, pick them up, drop them, lose them, and all sorts of things that make the film more endearing and engrossing for it.
There is one scene that is actually very moving where one character is hiding alone in the back of the villain’s truck, thinking he will be killed. So he records a final message for his friends, which consists of about thirty seconds of genuine tears, sobbing and pausing while he thinks of what to say, before all he can think appropriate is ‘I love you, guys.’ While starring a cast of unknowns and basing the film entirely around the experiences of the children is brave, in this case fortunately not only are the child actors talented, they are also likeable, believable, and they work well together as an ensemble.
The screenplay may be typical and the film isn’t one you would watch again and again or feel the nostalgia of like E.T., The Goonies or Super 8 – it won’t change someone’s childhood – but it is good fun, well-acted and there is much to enjoy in the capers these characters get up to.