July 02, 2014

Movie reviews: 'Earth To Echo' and 'Tammy'

By Carl Kozlowski *

There are two major movies coming out this weekend in theatres, and both are surprises for unusual reasons. One, “Earth to Echo,” features a cast of literal unknowns and appears to be a knock-off of “E.T.”  and “The Goonies,” with a bit of “Super 8” thrown in at the climax.

The other one, “Tammy,” is the latest comedy from female force-of-nature Melissa McCarthy, and features her as a fat small-town loser who hits the road with her grandmother (played by Susan Sarandon) to escape their dead-end lives. Guess which one is the better movie?

Surprisingly, it’s “Echo,” a rousing tale of three young teenage friends who chase after mysterious signals from an alien and hope that saving the alien can also save their neighborhood from demolition. Tuck, Munch and Alex have been best friends since their early childhood days, and they try to have one last adventure together before each of their families has to move under government orders so that a highway can be built through their neighborhood.  But just as they’re trying to figure out what last-ditch effort can save their homes, they  start seeing mysterious maps on their cellphone screens.

Figuring that they’re being called out to the desert 20 miles away, they decide to tell their parents that they’re having a last-ever sleepover party and instead ride their bikes into the great unknown. When they finally find the spot they’re led to, they find plenty of men in the distance with flashlights and wind up discovering a huge construction site lit up in the middle of the vast desert expanse.

They also find a little robot-like alien they name Echo, and soon they realize that the mystery men are government officials out to capture, examine and likely kill the creature. Thus, the heroic trio decide to make a break for it with the alien and see if they can figure out how to get him home.

This may sound like a ripoff of the aforementioned childhood-movie classics, but “Earth To Echo” manages to work due to the fresh performances of its young leads and the propulsive energy brought to the film by director Dave Green and writer Henry Gayden. 

The filmmakers tell the whole story through the viewpoint of the kids' constantly moving video cameras, which they wear even while riding bikes and running.

The result is a constantly engaging visual sense that amps up the tension that should have both adults and kids on the edge of their seats, and is more like a kids’ version of “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” than the simply child-friendly fare the movie is being marketed as.

“Earth” is refreshingly free of any noticeable profanity or dirty jokes, and while its action is fast-paced and nearly non-stop, it is never truly violent. The kids do lie to their parents about having a sleepover party when they’re actually riding dangerously into the desert in the dead of night, and they do cause some mischief by “borrowing” a car from one boy’s older brother and engaging in reckless underage driving along the way. But they’re doing it all in the name of saving the sweet alien’s life, and the movie is so obviously a fun fantasy that there is little risk kids will try to replicate it.  

While “Earth To Echo” is unlikely to appeal to many adults without children, its mix of tension and appealing characters should prove a winning combination for kids and families. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for “Tammy,” a tale of dysfunctional characters whom viewers would likely wish they’d never have to encounter in real life. 

The movie follows the story of a clueless and obese female loser named Tammy (Melissa McCarthy), who works in a dead-end fast-food restaurant. In one day, she ruins her car, gets fired from her job and discovers that her husband is having an affair with their next-door neighbor.

Frustrated with her life, Tammy declares she is leaving her husband and needs to borrow the car of her grandmother Pearl (Susan Sarandon), in order to leave town for a big city and start over. Pearl also wants to escape her own dead-end life and the two head off. The problem is that Pearl is a hopeless alcoholic and together, Tammy and Pearl are a disaster with everyone they meet.

That is, except for when Tammy meets a sweet guy named Bobby (Mark Duplass), whose married father (Gary Cole) has a one-night stand with Pearl that is implied and discussed, rather than shown. When Tammy and Pearl are arrested, Tammy is released first and she attempts to bail out Pearl by robbing a branch of her former fast-food employer of the $1600 they need.

Thus, as Tammy and Pearl go on the run, they wind up surrounded by her lesbian aunt Lenore (Kathy Bates) and a houseful of their lesbian friends having a party. Tammy slowly moves from friendship to true love with Bobby, prompting her to make improvements in her life.

“Tammy” sounds like more fun than it actually is, since McCarthy relied on her husband Ben Falcone to co-write with her and direct it and he has no prior feature-film credits to his name. The movie is funny in fits and starts, particularly when Tammy gets angry, as McCarthy is a master of physical comedy and showing frustration in funny fashion.

Too much of the movie drifts without enough action or emotion taking place, leaving the audience to stare at the screen in boredom. Conversely, the movie’s depiction of troubled people in denial can be emotionally affecting at times, but “Tammy” also undercuts itself on that front with its jumpy attempts to mix humor and heart.

There’s also way too much profanity, as McCarthy and her costars intend to use it in humorous white-trash frustration but it quickly grows tiresome. But the movie does have some sweetly redemptive moments too, as (SPOILER ALERT) Tammy and Pearl break back into the fast-food restaurant to give the stolen money back and Tammy winds up facing the music by accepting a 38-day jail sentence for her initial robbery. Pearl, meanwhile, admits she has a drinking problem and sobers up while settling down in an assisted-living community.

But unfortunately, that’s too little too late. Here’s hoping that McCarthy remembers that she should find the funny first, and make sure that she has a more experienced hand guiding her films in the future.

Carl Kozlowski has been a professional film critic and essayist for the past five years at Pasadena Weekly, in addition to the Christian movie site Movieguide.org, the conservative pop culture site Breitbart.coms Big Hollywood, the Christian pop culture magazine Relevant and New City newspaper in Chicago. He also writes in-depth celebrity interviews for Esquire.com and The Progressive. He is owner of the podcasting site www.radiotitans.com, which was named one of the Frontier Fifty in 2013 as one of the 50 best talk-radio outlets in the nation by www.talkers.com and will be relaunching it in January 2014 after a five-month sabbatical. He lives in Los Angeles.

* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.


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