Remember E.T.? It seems that the folks behind Earth to Echo are either hoping you don’t, or else they’re counting on your love of nostalgia to carry the day. Either way, it’s not enough to make Echo much more than a pleasant diversion for kids.

Shot in the de rigueur “found footage” style, it tracks the lives of three tween boys who trip on a cute little alien robot and then struggle to help him get back to his spaceship for the long journey back to the stars. Worry-wort Munch (Reese Hartwig), amateur filmmaker Turk (Brian “Astro” Bradley), and cool kid Alex (Teo Halm) are all just a day away from being booted from their homes (yes, Goonies-style) thanks to a new freeway development slated to slice through their Nevada neighborhood. When their phones all weirdly go on the fritz, they surmise that they’re actually being shown a map, which, of course leads them to the middle of nowhere– to the precise spot where Echo landed.

Along the way they meet up with their super-cute classmate Emma (Ella Wahlestedt), and the four (all of whom actually turn in better-than-average performances) then embark on a scavenger hunt to find all of the spaceship’s various parts. Of course, all of their parents are completely oblivious to what’s going on, while at the same time a gaggle of shady adults in construction garb are hot on their heels, also searching for Echo.

Why novice screenwriter Henry Gayden decided to go the found-footage route is a bit of a head-scratcher; it’s not long before it falls victim to its own device (including one scene where we see Turk actually delete the video that we’ve just watched (um… huh?). Sure, it gives a bit of Blair With Project immediacy, but beyond that, you’ll find yourself pondering early and often how the film may have actually succeeded if shot traditionally. And if his homage to E.T. and The Goonies weren’t evidence enough, it becomes even more clear throughout Earth to Echo that Gayden bows at the altar of Spielberg– Super 8 and Close Encounters of the Third Kind are also obvious influences (er… rip-offs?).

First-time director Dave Green does a decent job (at least for the Middle School crowd) of keeping things moving, and the effects are serviceable enough, but in the end, Echo is just too full of gaping plot holes and convenient moments for adults to garner much enjoyment from it.

The 8-13 year old crowd may leave the theater happy enough, but that’s about as far as it goes. My recommendation? Show the kiddos E.T., The Goonies, and Close Encounters instead, and let them know what quality filmmaking looks like.

2/5 stars