Both films focus on a bunch of bike riding kids trying to help a cute alien get back to its spaceship before adult officials can capture it for study. The difference is that "Earth to Echo" simply doesn't have the heart of Spielberg's masterpiece, although there is probably just enough sci fi-tinged drama and a couple of cool special effects moments to keep pre-teen audiences amused for a couple of hours.
The story begins with a group of thirteen year old kids bemoaning the fact that a highway project is forcing them to move away from their friends. There's still time for one last adventure, which begins when their cell phones start freaking out. The kids realize that the glitches form a map of sorts, so they ride off into the Nevada desert to track down the source of the problem.
They discover a cute little robotic alien that's part Wall-E and part Transformers owl. Once they have determined that it's not going to eat them, they set off trying to help the alien get back home.
Despite the film's science fiction premise, "Earth to Echo" really wants to be a coming of age drama, but the teenage cast isn't quite up to the challenge. The acting is pretty unconvincing, although the young adult cast certainly does their best to bring a lot of youthful energy to their roles. There's something rather appealing about watching kids being kids.
In a bit of a strange disappointment, it's the inert relationship between the kids and the alien that really keeps this film from blasting off. "Echo" is certainly a cute special effects creature, but there's very little heart to the alien It's difficult to understand why the kids would risk so much on its behalf given the unconvincing relationship.
Story-wise, "Earth to Echo" has some pretty big plot holes, but first time director Dave Green keeps everything moving at such a breakneck pace that it's easy to get caught up in the adventure. There are a few nice special effects moments, but that's really not the point of this modestly budgeted coming of age drama/adventure.
All of which means that while "Earth to Echo" isn't anywhere near as good as "E.T. the Extraterrestrial," I suspect that most pre-teens will still enjoy strapping in for a mild adventure without too much concern about the story or acting problems.