by Hope Madden
Following three increasingly competent features (Easier with Practice, C.O.G., The Stanford Prison Experiment), filmmaker Kyle Patrick Alvarez moved into episodic television. His return to feature length feels a bit more like TV than film, but Crater marks new territory for Alvarez in family entertainment.
The Disney+ feature, written by John Griffin (also mainly TV), follows a quintet of adolescents on a joyride across the moon.
The effortlessly charming Mckenna Grace (Ghostbusters: Afterlife) is the new kid on the helium mining colony. Caleb (Isaiah Russell-Bailey) and his buddies need her to help them break into the basement garage so they can hotwire a rover and take it to the “crater” Isaiah’s dad was always talking about. They never expected her to want to go with them.
The film’s anticapitalism message (ironic coming from Disney) is welcome, as we commiserate with the five children of miners – each with no future outside of mining, except for Isaiah. When Isaiah’s father died in the mine, the insurance money bought his now-orphaned son a ticket off this rock.
But first, the kids go on an epic adventure that will change their lives.
It feels about as pre-packaged as it sounds, very Goonies or Stand By Me, but slicker, tidier and without the soul. Grace has proven to be nothing but an authentic talent since toddlerhood, really announcing her skill in 2017’s Gifted. But she’s given no real opportunity to create a character here.
Her co-stars struggle even more. Russell-Bailey can’t dig deep enough to manage the life-altering grief or rage a kid in his position would face, but at least his backstory is unveiled slowly. Isaiah’s best friend (Billy Barratt) just announces his trauma, then stares doe-eyed at both Grace and Russell-Bailey for the balance of the film. This isn’t a knock on the performance as much as it is the script and direction.
Crater cobbles together a lot of cliched ideas but can’t find any depth to explore. Instead Alvarez delivers a superficial and forgettable road trip movie in space.