Kids may get a mild kick out of 'Earth to Echo', a original movie developed and produced by Disney but distributed by Relativity Media, because it's a fun, if inconsequential, ride. Adults, however, are going to forget that there's a movie here because they've seen it all before and are likely to spend the hour and a half figuring out where they saw each bit last.
The trailer came off as a cross between 'The Goonies' and 'ET: The Extra-Terrestrial', or maybe 'WALL-E' for those of a younger generation. These films stayed the most obvious sources during the movie too, but others kept on piling in like this was hijacking JJ Abrams's nostalgia trip into early Stephen Spielberg territory in 'Super-8'. I couldn't miss the 'Close Encounters of the Third Kind', 'The Iron Giant' and 'Critters' thefts, but others have mentioned 'Explorers' and '*Batteries Not Included' too, films that I haven't seen in so long that I can't remember how they went. The only original idea is to shoot this thoroughly 1980s movie in 'found footage' style, which isn't remotely contemporary but is at least a decade or so newer than everything else they stole.
To start out with, it's 'The Goonies'. A bunch of kids are commiserating about the fact that their neighbourhood, Mulberry Woods, NV, is about to be demolished to make way for a new freeway (shades of 'The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy' here too) and they're coming up on their last night together. Fortunately, the powers of the universe give them an adventure to enjoy that might just save their town to boot.
Perhaps because the budget wasn't too high, we initially only get three kids to follow, though they're all recognisable from other movies, if not a particular one then a distillation of a few into a single essence.
There's Munch Barrett, who is a thinly disguised version of Chunk from 'The Goonies', because he's the most dorky of the trio and blabs the easiest. However, he's a likeable kid and I loved the set design of his room, because it's a blissfully memorable take on organised chaos, much closer than Hollywood normally gets to the truth. There's Alex, the foster kid, who has no stuff because he gets moved around all the time and has the expected issues. Finally, there's Tuck Simms, the token ethnic kid who is the one filming everything; he's a little sassy but not quite enough to actually get him anywhere.
They're decent kids played by decent actors and, if they weren't so incessantly derivative, they would have been decently written. They're on the nerdy side, so don't fit in particularly well at school, but they're not clichéd nerdy, just not quite normal enough to count. They're also very believable, because they're a fair mixture of bright and dumb, their intelligence above average but their common sense maybe a little below.
In a blitz of product placement that sniffs at brand loyalty (YouTube, Ask Yahoo!, Google Talk) they figure out that the weirdness happening to their cellphones is actually a map. So off they go on their last night together to figure out what they're being sent towards. Here, of course, we have to suspend disbelief that the sinister 'phone company' guys who are asking odd questions around town are too dumb to figure this out themselves and so beat them to the punch, given that the kids are on bikes and they're in trucks.
What the kids find, in the middle of nowhere, is some sort of device mostly buried in the ground. They take it anyway, as covered in crud as it is, and a little way down the road it comes to life at the same time their phones get a new map delivered in graphic weirdness. At the barn it leads them to, the device begins to self assemble from parts it finds and we end up firmly in the territory of 'The Iron Giant'.
And so on it goes. You won't be surprised at anything that happens because you've seen it all before. You know that they'll pick up a chick along the way, who would have been too cool to hang out with them otherwise. You know there will be unexpected bravery and the sort of decisions that make kids grow up a little. You know they're each going to get their turn to shine in the spotlight. And you know that this device is going to turn into something cute and alien. It turns out to be something rather like the brass owl from 'Clash of the Titans' and it's here to collect a spaceship, while naturally being lost and alone just like them. You can feel the bonding experience without even having to watch the movie.
I've been a little flippant thus far because the script deserves it. It doesn't have an original bone in its body but it tries to tap into the heart that the films it stole from often had. It almost succeeds but it's just too derivative to carry much of an impact. That's why this is firmly a movie for the younger generation who haven't seen the movies it ripped off, because it might just work for them. Certainly it proceeds onward at a reasonable and consistent pace and escalates towards the finalé appropriately. The humour is agreeable, if never particularly strong. The 'bad guys' aren't evil, just driven to do their jobs in the way they deem fit, with Mulberry Woods unfortunately in their way. It's nothing personal.
There are plenty of plot conveniences and internal consistency problems that kids will probably overlook but adults won't fail to puzzle over. Tuck's camcorder apparently has an eternal battery. They manage to cycle across what seems like the whole of Nevada in one night. Tuck learns to drive quicker than the cavemen in 'Battlefield Earth'. And, of course, the girl they accidentally acquire on the way is the only girl who's been mentioned in the entire movie up to that point. Convenient, huh?
I'm sappy enough to have got a thrill of nostalgia out of 'Earth to Echo', but if I hadn't written up my notes within 24 hours, the film may have become lost in my memories, confused with all the films it ripped off. Goonies never say die! Oh, sorry, wrong movie.