Crater Stumbles Trying to Be The Breakfast Club in Space

Movies Reviews Disney Plus
Crater Stumbles Trying to Be The Breakfast Club in Space

On behalf of the children, here’s a request for adult screenwriters writing kid-oriented fare: Please, lighten up. This generation’s had a bum three years, and are staring down a tumultuous future. Don’t they deserve some throwback-style, fun stories featuring some danger and adventure, yet packed with a lot less trauma? I lament because Crater, the latest Disney+ original movie, actually made me sad for those tweens and teens excited about getting a space romp adventure, only for them to discover…it is not.

Which is even more disappointing because Crater features an original story, set in 2257, with a lot of potential. Sporting solid visual effects despite a modest budget, it opens on a lunar mining colony where five teen friends are panicking as they try to hotwire an industrial rover. It’s mere minutes before a meteor shower lockdown—for some reason they have to get out of the compound. As is the way these days with most storytelling, the narrative suddenly flashes back in medias res to earlier in the day to set some context. The ringleader of the group is newly-orphaned Caleb Channing (Isaiah Russell-Bailey). An executive at the lunar colony tells him in light of his father’s recent death in a mining incident, Caleb is now ensured a “coveted” one-way trip to the world of Omega. Essentially a colonized new Earth 75 light years away, he’ll get a new foster family and a fresh start on an idyllic planet. However, Caleb isn’t interested because he’ll lose the only people he’s got left, his best friends Dylan (Billy Barratt), Borney (Orson Hong) and Marcus (Thomas Boyce). Caleb also wants to fulfill his dad’s last request, which is to travel out into the lunar landscape to visit a secret crater that meant a lot to his mom and dad before she passed away seven years ago. And here the trauma starts…fun!

His pals are all in, but they don’t have the codes needed to leave the perimeter, so they seek the aid of new lunar misfit, Addison (Mckenna Grace). Recently relocated to the colony with her administrator dad, the guys know she hasn’t exactly fit into her new home well, so Dylan pitches her Caleb’s sob story and she agrees to help them. They acquire the codes and drive out onto the moonscape. From there, Crater should have easily zoomed along as “one last space adventure” with the five friends doing anti-grav doughnuts, eating freeze-dried ice cream and maybe even exploring a visually impressive abandoned lunar city that gets left in their lunar dust. A few of those things get touched upon, but unfortunately John Griffin’s script is more interested in achieving “The Breakfast Club in space” status which means we get a lot of angst and depressing character backstories filling up the way-too-long two-hour runtime. 

As the five roll towards their goal, Crater gets very talky. The kids share details about their rather sad lives as the progeny of mining parents who have essentially been turned into indentured servants. Promised tickets to Omega after 20 years of work, the common theme is that most workers have been bait-and-switched into laboring away the arbitrarily assigned debt that has locked them to the mines. And so the boys have only existed inside the lunar dome, poorly educated and never seeing blue skies or nature. Some of them have dire medical conditions or suffer from major anxiety, and all five have terrible homelife stories which they share in bleak little pockets of exposition that the kid actors sell a little too well. Because the script never lightens up on these non-stop angst moments, Crater suffers from a case of tonal whiplash. One entertaining set piece of jet-pack play or a scene with the kids binge-eating a stash of never-before-eaten foods can’t possibly overcome the tsunami of melancholic moments the adult filmmakers can’t seem to stop indulging in.

And that’s a double bummer because the cast establishes an entertaining rapport. Russell-Bailey gives us an empathetic lead in Caleb, while Grace is, as always, great and anchors a lot of those emotional moments forced upon us. Crater also makes the interesting choice to sideline almost all adults in the story unless they are needed to drop a bit of exposition—or in Caleb’s case, provide us (too many) random flashbacks with his father (Scott Mescudi). It’s an original choice to make for a movie tailored to a teen audience, and one that works because the cast is up to the challenge. 

However, from a story perspective, Crater is scripted like a fragile house of cards, relying on far too many coincidences in service of moving the plot along. From selective meteors, to unmonitored gates and abandoned outposts with no door locks yet fully stocked closets, there’s no logic to much of what the kids encounter. You can practically hear the filmmaker’s whispering throughout: “Just go with it…” And that is especially true with regards to what they find at the secret crater. The whole set piece is an enormous head scratcher that’s essentially left in the exposition moon dust so they can instead focus on making the characters (and I guess, the audience) cry. 

That maudlin approach carries through to the very end, with director Kyle Patrick Alvarez sacrificing narrative sense and three-quarters of his own cast for an out-of-nowhere conclusion that is so emotionally over-orchestrated, it might as well come with an onion peeler to forcibly squeeze the tears out of its viewers. Awkwardly constructed and inanely executed via audio messages (in a world with interstellar space travel!), Crater’s last 15 minutes are a disservice to the cast who shouldered the majority of the film, and the sappy cheat of an ending will not inspire many to give it any repeated viewings.

Director: Kyle Patrick Alvarez
Writer: John Griffin
Starring: Mckenna Grace, Isaiah Russell-Bailey, Billy Barratt, Orson Hong, Thomas Boyce
Release Date: May 12, 2023 (Disney+)

Tara Bennett is a Los Angeles-based writer covering film, television and pop culture for publications such as SFX Magazine, Total Film, SYFY Wire and more. She’s also written books on Sons of Anarchy, Outlander, Fringe, The Story of Marvel Studios and The Art of Avatar: The Way of Water. You can follow her on Twitter @TaraDBennett or Instagram @TaraDBen

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