Earth to Echo begins with a kind of rallying cry, wherein a group of millennials, who, as is their wont, constantly filter their lives through a plethora of screens, reject their parents' assertions that they're "just kids." In order to make room for a superhighway, their New Mexico burb is set to be razed, and sensing an expiration date on their friendship, they go hunting for adventure. Presented as if it were being made in real time by the ever-recording young Tuck (The X Factor's Astro), Dave Green's Super 8 for Beginners proceeds as a high-paced scavenger hunt, with Tuck and his buds, Alex (Teo Halm) and Munch (Reese C. Hartwig), trying to help an extra-terrestrial phone home. As the kids use the strange signals on their cells to guide them to the assorted knickknacks the alien needs to unlock his subterranean spacecraft, the film tensely volleys from scene to scene with a desperation that feels as purposeful as the controlled chaos the little whatsit sets into motion throughout. In a dazzling highlight, Echo (think of an owl-y Gizmo in shiny, metallic drag) takes apart and rebuilds a massive truck around its driver, one piece at a time, so as to avoid colliding with the young heroes' getaway vehicle. These expensively realized effects fit comfortably enough into an otherwise low-rent found-footage chase film whose near-fetishistic nods to the Spielberg canon would likely stump the story's latter-day Goonies. But the constant foregrounding of so much well-executed incident only works to shortchange the heroes' yearnings and anxieties: Even after pretty young Emma (Ella Wahlestedt) joins the boys' sleuthing posse, the film all but forgets that she was the object of their collective affections, and just as their parents are ciphers, so, too, do these kids' feelings of resentment and exasperation about their subsequent separation from one another remain nebulous. As a result, the tacked-on resolution, in which Astro euphorically declares that distance ain't no thang, carries as little weight as the crocodile tears Alex sheds for the personality-free E.T. with whom he never so much as shared a single heart to heart—or finger to finger.
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