Within the first four minutes of Disney+ Original film “Crater,” we already have a cavalcade of movie tropes to contend with: dead parents, spaceships, and a 72-hour ticking clock for one newly-orphaned tween to say farewell to his friend group. At least we know Disney hasn’t shied away from its classic storylines.
Part “Guardians of the Galaxy” and part “Goonies” with a dash of “Outer Banks,” “Crater” centers on Caleb Channing (a well-cast Isaiah Russell-Bailey), who was raised on a lunar mining colony by his single dad (Scott “Kid Cudi” Mescudi). After the death of his father, Caleb becomes a ward of the state, poised to reap the “death benefits” from his father’s work contract with the colony. As part of said benefits, Caleb is supposed to be put in a cryosleep and transported to distant planet Omega, which takes 75 years to reach.
But when a meteor shower warning puts the planet into an unexpected lockdown, he has just 72 hours before the transport is scheduled. Of course, Caleb takes this limited time for one last hurrah with his best friends, Dylan (Billy Barratt), Borney (Orson Hong), and Marcus (Thomas Boyce), and follow his late father’s treasure map to uncharted territory (trope alert: treasure map!).
The sweet ensemble friend group is joined by Addison (Mckenna Grace), whom the boys seek out to befriend explicitly for her father’s access to a space rover so they can explore a crater. Sure, there’s cringe green-screen CGI, which makes the kids’ faces mirror “Twilight” icon Renesmee in the space suit helmets, but their adventure away from the adults (cough, cough, the worst part of the film) makes it a worthy escape.
Caleb pictures his father in flashbacks, encouraging him to take more road trips that let him “leave everything behind,” like the grief they both endured losing Caleb’s mother. Yet Mescudi had a far better turn in Ti West’s “X”; the actor wavers in a more serious role for “Crater,” especially one of a steady father grappling with a slew of emotions before his own inevitable demise. Caleb and crew were wise to teleport away from him in the script.
The freedom of an adolescent friend group existing in their own universe, sans parents (dead) or other adults (threatening to force Caleb away from his friends forever), is well-captured in the coming-of-age movie. It’s believably fun, but best suited for the age group the actors embody. Any older audience member will surely roll their eyes at the spoon-fed cuteness. Yet for a 12-year-old, “Crater” just might feel like shooting for the moon.
“Crater” is directed by Kyle Patrick Alvarez, whose experience helming “13 Reasons Why” seems to be on full display with the young actors. Yet the tension displayed in Alvarez’s indie features “Easier with Practice” and “The Stanford Prison Experiment” is nowhere to be seen, outside of a chilly first few minutes when the weight of Caleb’s emotional journey sets in. The film is penned by John Griffin (“From,” “The Twilight Zone”), staying tried and true to the three-act structure with no surprises.
In the film’s final moments, Caleb even seems to be part of a teased “Avengers: Endgame”-esque moment, cate of an unexpected reunion with his pals, much like Captain America in the Marvel epic. Yet the film decides to stay more conservative and even more somber. The message is that there’s no going back to the past, and no true reunion with the people you’ve lost, so you might as well enjoy the out-of-this-world adventure while you can.
“Crater” is now streaming on Disney+.