Earth to Echo (PG)
Running time: 91 minutes
Starring: Teo Halm, Brian "Astro" Bradley, Reese Hartwig, Ella Wahlestedt, Jason Gray-Stanford.
Director: Dave Green.
Released: July 25 (UK & Ireland)
IN 1982, ET phoned home and now another stranded extra-terrestrial requires assistance from pint-sized heroes to safely return to the stars in Dave Green's fantastical family-oriented adventure.
Earth To Echo begs obvious similarities to Steven Spielberg's classic coming-of-age story and the 1987 fantasy *Batteries Not Included.
Green's special effects-laden picture lacks the emotional wallop of the former and the unabashed charm of the latter, but does tread a familiar path through fresh eyes by employing the found footage format a la Paranormal Activity.
Characters address an omnipresent video camera, verbalising their excitement and fear as a night-time bicycle ride into the desert becomes a rescue mission of galactic proportions.
"I'm Reginald. I'm a bit of an acquired taste... that's what my mom says," confesses one of the boys in his endearingly nervous introduction.
Like all examples of the genre, the lens invariably points in the right direction, regardless of realism, to capture important conversations and push forward the storyline.
"What you're about to see is what happened to me and my friends one year ago," explains Tuck (Brian "Astro" Bradley).
In fragmented footage, we meet Tuck's best friends Alex (Teo Halm) and Reginald aka Munch (Reese Hartwig) after they learn that a highway construction project is going to tear apart their community of Clark County, Nevada.
The lads will have to relocate to different parts of the country, signalling the end of their balmy childhood.
On their last night together, the boys follow strange signals on their mobile phones into the desert.
"I never understood why people like the outdoors," wheezes Munch.
They uncover a friendly robot, who has become stranded on Earth, and the boys pledge to help their otherworldly friend locate the missing parts of his spaceship so he can return home.
Plucky classmate Emma (Ella Wahlestedt) joins the trio as they evade shady government officials led by Dr Lawrence Masden (Jason Gray-Stanford), who are also hunting Echo.
"He just wants to go home!" pleads one of the children.
"That will not happen," sneers Masden, "that thing is far too valuable."
Earth To Echo is a state-of-the-art ode to ET and its imitators that ups the technical ante for a generation that prefers to swipe at tablets and smart phones rather than go outside and play.
Green employs special effects at key junctures, but, for the most part, he's reliant on the young cast to carry his film.
Halm, Bradley and Hartwig are appealing without being too winsomely cute, and there are some genuinely touching scenes of the boys choking back emotion as the enormity of the situation, and the risks, become clear.
The titular robot's personality is encapsulated in a few beeps and trills that should, if nothing else, remind audiences to keep their mobile devices switched off for the duration.