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Family movie sends bad message

POSTED: July 3, 2014 1:00 a.m.

What if I told you a movie was about four bikers who destroy a pawnshop, cause significant damage to a bar and are chased out of it by angry drinkers? Then I told you the same four bikers break into a private residence and a barn, steal two cars, crash a high school party where everyone is drinking and having sex and commit other serious crimes.

You might think I was describing a Peter Fonda road movie or a Roger Corman teen flick. Or maybe you would assume those four bikers were the villains of the movie.

In all of those cases you would be wrong. That is a description of Walt Disney Studios’ and Relativity Media’s new PG-rated family movie, “Earth to Echo.” The four bikers are in their early teens and ride bicycles rather than motorcycles, but they do all these things.

Discussing the morality of movies is a slippery slope, and I happen to believe the movies have limited influence on viewers’ behavior. It’s usually better for a reviewer to avoid such matters.

But there is no denying the movies’ influence is greater on pre-teen and teen viewers. We all try on identities and behaviors at that age; and for good and bad, movies are a source of ideas during the formative years.

“Earth to Echo” is also a typical young adult movie in that it purports to teach viewers something.

For these reasons, I can’t ignore what an irresponsible movie this is. I cannot imagine allowing my son to see a movie in which boys and girls behave as they do in “Earth to Echo” and are ultimately judged heroic for it.

This is also the first time in my life a movie has nearly made me vomit.

“Earth to Echo” is a found footage movie of sorts. One of the boys is an aspiring filmmaker who carries his camcorder everywhere, capturing all of his friends’ minute actions and trivial conversations.

All of the footage in the movie supposedly comes from that camcorder, a camera mounted to a bicycle, or a camera hidden in spyglasses. Nearly every second of the movie is so shaky I had to avert my eyes much of the time to avoid getting sick. I only stayed for the entire movie because I was reviewing it.

The story suffers from fatal flaws, too. Not only is it a shameless rip off of “Super 8” and “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial,” it’s also nonsensical.

The four main characters are led to various locations — the scenes of their crimes — as they try to help a little alien rebuild its spaceship and get back home. We eventually discover the alien, whom they call Echo, needs parts to rebuild itself. We are asked to believe the only places Echo can find the parts it needs are a pawnshop, a bar, the bedroom of a girl the boys like and an arcade.

Like so many condescending, pandering movies made for kids, one passing moment of critical reflection makes the whole story fall apart.

Family movies don’t have to teach kids lessons, but this one explicitly strives to do so, and it is an appalling message.

The movie’s primary theme is the children feel powerless and invisible. It’s true, kids do feel that way. It could have made sense for the kids to discover things about themselves as they are put in adult, perilous situations.

However, they don’t find any real empowerment. They follow maps from one place to the next, and Echo does the work while the kids indulge in an extended video selfie.

Worse, the kids place themselves in serious danger and commit multiple crimes. And it is all played for laughs.

The child who narrates the movie then sums up the moral by proclaiming he and his friends have learned “they can make a difference.”

That’s right kids, make a difference by destroying personal property and endangering everyone around you. Good family fun.

Jeff Marker is head of the Communication, Media & Journalism Department at the University of North Georgia. His reviews appear weekly in Get Out and on gainesvilletimes.com/getout.


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