It’s a story as old as, well, shovels.
Wherever there’s something valuable under the ground, somebody will figure out a way to dig it up. Prospectors will find it, miners will get at it. And wherever there are prospectors, there are claim jumpers.
That’s the nugget of a plot of “Prospect,” a lean sci-fi adventure built on the same premise as “Outland” and “Avatar” and every science fiction TV show or movie that parks miners (“Dune,” “Star Trek,” “Star Wars”) in space. Because as long as humans are around, we’re going to need stuff dug up for us. And we’re going to be greedy about it.
But co-writer/directors Christopher Caldwell and Zeek Earl, basing this on a short film they made a few years back, have surrounded that thin thruline with mountains of detail, from the space suits, spaceships, props and tech that all look as if they could have come off the shelf of Lowes (or FutureLowes), to the J-Pop of the future, future shorthand, slang and jargon.
They’ve loaded a lot onto a movie that didn’t need it, but the co-directors of “In the Pines” never spoil this teen-girl-holds-her-own-against-cutthroats thriller.
Jay Duplass and Sophie Thatcher (TV’s “Chicago Med”) are a father and daughter out for a quick score in “The Green,” on “The Fringe.” They’ve gambled all on a pod drop flight onto this forested, verdant but toxic moon where some subterranean critter is an alien oyster that produces its own version of pearls.
The “gems” look like amber sealed in ambergris. Harvesting it is tricky, as like everything else on this planet, the gall bladders this stuff is found in are so acidic that the wrong cut in removing it ruins the gem.
Damon (Duplass, usually a writer/director but last seen as an actor in “The Oath”) is teaching Cee (Thatcher) the ropes. She’s a tough but timorous teen, inclined to play it safe, make the quick trip in and out taking just enough to clear their debts.
Dad is looking for “The Queen’s Lair,” a treasure trove of the gems. The promise of that is all he has to offer to save his life when claim jumpers led by Ezra (Pedro Pascal of “Narcos” and “Game of Thrones”) get the jump on him.
Ezra is a chatterbox straight out of a Charles Portis (“True Grit”) novel, trafficking in the arcane futuristic argot that shows off his polysyllabic propensity and faux genteel affected affection for the sound of his own voice.
“I am not fond of intrigue,” he purrs, when Damon tries to bargain out of his gun-point (guns are called “throwers”) fix. “I elect to believe you more out of desire than common sense.”
But risks are taken by those with nothing to lose, and as Ezra is fond of putting it, “Words and metal flew.” He finds himself the last murderer standing in a Mexican Deep Space Standoff with Cee.
They need each other to get home, or at least into orbit for pickup.
“Prospect” plays, first scene to last, like a Western, with our unhappily-linked couple facing a harsh environment, little hope of rescue and peril from ex-miners who have Gone Native (Andre Royo), soldiers with an agenda of their own and a seething mistrust that no charming word out of Ezra’s duplicitous mouth can soften Cee toward him.
“You killed my father!”
“That is…technically true.”
There’s horse trading, without horses, shootouts with a sadistic Russian mercenary woman, fortunes grabbed and dropped and a little field surgery when injuries take their toll.
Western or sci-fi Western, “Prospect” never sets its sights higher than violent, quasi-poetic B-movie and as such does not disappoint.
Thatcher is properly plucky, and Pascal makes a firm bid for “The Next Michael Shannon” status — a villain with genuine malice in his heart, menace in his eyes and a veritable dictionary in his mouth.
MPAA Rating: R (violence)
Cast: Sophie Thatcher, Pedro Pascal, Jay Duplass, Andre Royo, Anwan Glover
Credits: Written and directed by Christopher Caldwell, Zeek Earl. A Gunpowder & Sky release.
Running time: 1:38