“Crater” is a slick, cutesie kids’ action melodrama that makes the point that no matter where we transport them, human kids will be kids. And left to their own reckless devices, they’ll go all “Goonies” on you, even on the Moon.
It’s a Disney production, so don’t go in expecting much of an edge. But there is just enough of one to give this tale of life and death and growing up off-Earth to make this interesting.
It’s 2257, and the Moon has been settled for a couple of centuries now. But rather that developing into an off-Earth oasis, it’s still a mining colony, where miners and their families and corporate infrastructure live under a domed largely sub-surface complex.
They’re mining for helium, which is needed to power cryo-sleep starships that transport humans to Omega, an earthlike planet 75 years away.
Caleb, played by Isaiah Russell-Bailey, has just been given the tiny tube with the cremated of his miner-father. His dad’s “death benefits” include a paid-for transport to Omega, which means the young teen will be leaving his friends behind, and in just a couple of days.
When we meet them, Caleb, mop-topped Dylan (Billy Barratt), Little Mr. Insecurity Borney (Orson Hong) and Marcus (Thomas Boyce) are in the process of swiping a huge, six-wheeled rover to drive them to “The Crater.” Flashbacks tell us that Caleb’s Dad (Scott Mescudi) made him promise “if anything ever happens to me” to go there.
Now, with the help of the cute “spoiled little Earth girl Addison (Mckenna Grace from “The Handmaid’s Tail”), who can gett hem through through the airlock, they’re fulfilling Caleb’s dad’s last wish.
An impending meteor shower “lockdown” has given them the cover to carry out the theft. Heedless of the danger, they head out across the surface for a twelve hour one-way journey.
“Are you sure this is safe?” is worth asking, more than once, especially any time some teen blurts out “You guys ready for some REAL fun?”
The “edge” here comes from the jaded attitudes of the kids, their mistrust of The Company in charge. Every one of them, it seems, has some horror story of the “Sold My Soul to the Company Store” contracts their miner parents wound up trapped in. A “debt” that can’t easily be worked off, deaths, no real prospect of returning to Earth, little interest in the expensive journey into the unknown, without their friends, the only parent we see is Caleb’s, and he’s only here in flashbacks.
There’s enough of this that an adult viewer might be wondering if this corporation is telling people the truth about anything. A meteor shower means a time-consuming “lockdown?” You’re shipping me off to Omega? Sure.
So, a little joyride, a little “baseball” lesson from the Earth girl, a few hinjinx with their precious oxygen supply, some “Who could have seen THAT coming?” perils, and checking out the ruins of space ventures past on their way to a crater with something mysterious in it, an idea swiped from “2001: A Space Odyssey.”
Being a film for kids, there’s no point in parsing the science, the lax dome security and the mysterious living conditions that have children growing up with so little adult interaction it really is as if “The Goonies,” or their VERY mild-mannered descendents, have moved to the Moon.
“Crater” is a good-looking movie, with decent effects. It’s about as logical as any version of “Lost in Space” or “Space Camp.” The bland script gives every kid “issues” — trauma, despair over a limited future, an enlarged heart from living in limited gravity too long — and a couple of actions scenes that could leave them breathless and dead in the cold near vacuum of space.
But the sentimental moments don’t really play, and the comedy — NO horseplay in the ROVER, you GUYS! — leaves a lot to be desired.
Kids may get a little something out of it thanks to its various “Young Adult Fiction” types and tropes. Maybe they’ll enjoy pondering if low gravity could be the thing that “saves” baseball.
Anybody old enough to drive will be bored.
Cast: Isaiah Russell-Bailey, Mckenna Grace, Billy Barratt, Thomas Boyce, Orson Hong and Scott Mescudi
Credits: Directed by Kyle Patrick Alvarez, scripted by John Griffin. A Disney+ release.
Running time: 1:44