Earth to Echo is a slender kiddie flick about a quartet of preteens and their palm-sized alien pal that's at once bland, well-intentioned, and utterly terrifying about the mental development of modern children. As in the most honest kids films, our heroes admit to being isolated, unhappy, and cowed by the adult world. Their Nevada suburb will be torn down tomorrow, scattering these best friends --braggadocios Tuck (the one-named Astro from X-Factor), cowardly Munch (Reese Hartwig) and unthreateningly handsome Alex (Teo Halm)-- to different schools, and plucking the cute blonde (Ella Wahlestedt) they all crush on out of their universe before she even knew they shared one.
On their last night together, the guys dupe their parents with a fake slumber party, reroute the grown-ups' incoming calls to Munch's cell, and bike into the desert to track down a blinking treasure mysteriously beamed to their smartphone maps. Tuck has brought along a video camera -- what's the point of meeting an alien if there's no record on YouTube?
Director Dave Green is less a feature filmmaker than a juggler of screens. The found-footage gimmick--Earth to Echo's background canvas--is simply a gateway that allows for the visual shorthand of the boys shoving their phones at the lens. Instead of plunging into the woods, they stare at their GPS while swashbuckling through strip malls. Occasionally, Green zooms out for the Google Earth view of their quest, complete with an arrow pointing toward their location. The result feels both techno-immediate and emotionally distancing: There are so many cameras between us and the action that it's like attending a Pink Floyd laser light show and watching the magic through the recorder on your iPhone.