‘Earth’ echoes alien favorite ‘E.T.’

Teo Halm encounters Echo, a small alien who has become stranded on Earth in “Earth to Echo.”
Teo Halm encounters Echo, a small alien who has become stranded on Earth in “Earth to Echo.” Photo provided

My heart is beating so fast right now!” a character announces midway through “Earth to Echo.” Well, it’s nice somebody was excited. But when a movie has to resort to that — bulletins as to how scenes should be going over — it’s a sure sign that nobody else’s pulse is budging.

“Earth to Echo” represents the worst of the old and the new. It has the bland child characters and the bad acting of an old-fashioned after-school special, not to mention a story lifted straight out of “E.T.,” except with the honest emotion replaced by rote sentimentality. At the same time, the movie is inflected by modern technology, in that it’s filmed in a new way that makes it original, but unwatchable.

The gimmick here is that the movie is shot as if on the central characters’ cellphones. The idea is that, one year after the events depicted on screen, the characters got together and edited the footage they shot the year before, and the result was “Earth to Echo.”

Three boys — the soulful Alex (Teo Halm), the outgoing Tuck (Brian Astro Bradley) and the chubby, endearing Munch (Reese Hartwig) — get on their bicycles one night and ride in the direction of the cellular disturbance. Their journey leads them to a small capsule and to an even smaller little metal guy from outer space. Soon, they find that they are this little fellow’s only friends. They want to help him go home, while the government’s men want to find him and study him.

There are two special effects moments that are conceptually brilliant. In one, a truck disassembles and re-combines. A similar effect on a grander scale shows metal parts swirling around in the sky, then fusing together into a space ship.

But these minor virtues can’t compensate for a slow story. Much of the acting feels pushed, and though the movie leans hard on the emotional connection between the kids, the connection isn’t felt. Also, there’s no overestimating how tiresome the cellphone-footage gimmick becomes. It’s as if there’s a barrier between the viewer and the story that never comes down.