Where ‘E.T.’ phoned home, ‘Earth to Echo’ phones it in

Charm is in short supply in the kiddie sci-fi opus “Earth to Echo,” a mechanical imitation of “E.T.” Mechanical is the key word here, because the movie’s method is all about digital technology, and its extra-terrestrial is a little metal robot.

We are watching a video supposedly created by the film’s characters. It’s a chronicle of their adventure with a lil’ alien visitor, discovered out in the sand beyond their suburban neighborhood.

The three buddies are played by Reese Hartwig, Teo Halm and Brian “Astro” Bradley. They dedicate their last night together — a freeway project is destroying their neighborhood — to locating the odd alien presence that is making their cell phones go crazy.

For the sake of box-office demographics, they pick up a female classmate (Ella Wahlestedt) halfway through their crazy night. In movies like this, it is necessary for girls to be smarter than boys, so this one is too.

Chased around by ominous agents of some sort, the pre-teen crew really gets put through the wringer. In fact, the movie can’t settle on whether it’s a light-hearted romp or a more menacing adventure tale.

The concept is that everything we see comes through the cameras the kids have at their disposal, including a camera embedded in a pair of eyeglasses. That technique is pretty tired as a storytelling device, and the movie has to keep inventing reasons for someone to have their camera going, even during the most chaotic scenes.

It also has the side effect of a relentless shaky image, which instilled a queasy feeling in at least one member of the preview audience. (That would be me.)

Director Dave Green does his best to make the alien cuddly. It resembles a small metal owl, and has expressive eyebrows that have no apparent functional value except to make the little guy cuter.

This might be enough for young viewers who haven’t seen “E.T.” or “Super 8.” But “Earth to Echo” looks plenty thin, even on its own terms. The generic feeling ebbs only during the big special-effects climax, which at least looks unusual. That finale reveals what has been lurking beneath the streets of suburbia all these years, and the answer is wackier than you thought.

“Earth to Echo” (one-and-a-half stars)

A thin adventure story for kids, about four pre-teen pals who discover a metallic alien lost outside their suburban neighborhood. It’s “E.T.” warmed over, and the movie doesn’t generate much of its own charm along the way.

Rating: PG, for subject matter

Opens: Wednesday at Alderwood Mall, Edmonds Theatre, Everett Stadium, Galaxy Monroe, Marysville, Meridian, Thorton Place, Varsity, Woodinville, and Cascade Mall.

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