An alien and kids make for a refreshing update

Echo is an alien stranded on Earth and trying to get back home in space. A group of young people riding bikes comes to his aid - sound familiar?

Earth to Echo is so blatantly patterned on E.T., its title should be ETC.

It's also an exceptionally fine children's film.

Teo Halm, Reese Hartwig, and Brian "Astro" Bradley play inseparable adolescent best buds.

When the cellphones in their prefab housing tract start going haywire, the boys are the only ones who recognize the screen patterns as a map.

Breaking out their bikes, they're soon off on a scavenger hunt to help a little alien that looks like a clockwork owl. The visitor whom they dub Echo has crash-landed here and is assembling parts so he can return to space.

All the while, they're being pursued by shady government agents who want to get their hazmat mittens on Echo.

The character played by Astro (who you may remember as a rap contestant on X Factor) is recording all this on a variety of video cameras, so the movie has the bouncy, close-up POV of amateur footage. Making his feature debut, director Dave Green also incorporates a number of digital and social-media tropes.

With its sweet innocence, Earth to Echo is the best big-screen depiction of juvenile bonding since Stand By Me. And Halm does a particularly winning job as the kid who really connects with the alien, as Henry Thomas' Elliott did the first time around.

Maybe each generation needs its own E.T. Special effects have certainly come a long way since Spielberg made the original in 1982, and Green takes full advantage of those advances in two spectacular sequences.

 Sure, Earth to Echo is derivative, but it's refreshingly updated. Echo, I.M. home.



Earth to Echo *** (out of four stars)

Directed by Dave Green. With Teo Halm, Reese Hartwig, Brian "Astro" Bradley. Distributed by Relativity Media.

Running time: 1 hour, 31 mins.

Parent's guide: PG (action sequences).

Playing at: area theaters.




Earth to Echo

Directed by Dave Green. With Cassius Willis, Jason Gray-Stanford, Reese Hartwig, Ella Linnea Wahlestedt, Brian "Astro" Bradley, Teo Halm. Distributed by Relativity Media.

Running time: 1 hours, 29 minutes.

Parent's guide: PG (for some action and peril, and mild language).