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story.lead_photo.caption Echo

Earth to Echo,

directed by Dave Green

(PG, 91 minutes)

The protagonist in last summer's sci-fi adventure Earth to Echo isn't a single character; it's three middle-school boys plunged into extraordinary circumstances when they find a stranded alien in a Nevada desert. A girl shows up, irritating at first in her arrogance and beauty, but accepted into the fellowship when she saves the crew with a surprising display of bravery and wit.

Best friends Alex (Teo Halm), Tuck (Brian "Astro" Bradley) and Munch (Reese Hartwig), spending their last night together before a highway construction project destroys their neighborhood, follow a mysterious iPhone map to the middle of the desert, where they find lost and fragile Echo, a sort of floating metallic kitten with glowing blue eye-screens.

A series of beeps, flashes and adorable gazes convinces the gang that Echo needs to go home to his planet, but his spaceship is broken. The rest of the night is spent biking through Nevada and avoiding malicious scientists, as Echo wordlessly guides the friends through homes, bars and pawn shops for the parts he needs to rebuild his ship.

The visuals are impressive. Echo is fun to watch, with human tendencies like Pixar's Wall-E, that cause audiences to wonder how a chunk of CGI metal can melt the human heart. His technological powers come to fruition when he lights up an arcade to create a distraction, freeing Alex from detainment by a security guard. But a Transformers-esque slow-motion dismantling of a semi-truck hurtling toward the boys feels out of place, especially as it was saved for the movie's final 15 minutes.

As far as group chemistry goes, Earth to Echo is no Goonies or Stand by Me. But the cast of newcomers conveys a convincing camaraderie, especially as Alex, a foster child, bonds with Echo over their shared sense of displacement.

It's a refreshing family film, one where kids are encouraged to explore the world around them and use technology wisely. But it lacks what that genre so desperately needs for success: novelty.

Life After Beth (R, 91 minutes) A messy, uneven comedy that wants to be a horror film (or maybe it's the other way around), Life After Beth concerns the relationship between Zach (Dane DeHaan) and Beth (Aubrey Plaza), whose romance pretty much ends when she breaks up with him, then really ends when a solo hike in the woods turns deadly for her. Zach mourns, but not for long -- shortly after her funeral, Beth shows up at her parents' house, cute and sparkly as ever, with no memories of what's happened. Until the sparkle wears off and things get weird. Then they get weirder. With John C. Reilly, Molly Shannon; directed by Jeff Baena.

The Scribbler (R, 88 minutes) Suki (Katie Cassidy) decides to confront her destructive mental illness using an experimental machine designed to eliminate multiple personalities. But the closer Suki comes to being "cured," she's haunted by a troubling question: what if the last unwanted identity turns out to be her? With Eliza Dushku, Sasha Grey; directed by John Suits.

MovieStyle on 10/24/2014

Print Headline: Home movies

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