Four Hispanic high school students form a robotics club under the leadership of their school's newest teacher, Fredi. With no experience, 800 bucks, used car parts and a dream, this rag tag team goes up against the country's reigning robotics champion, MIT. On their journey, they learn not only how to build a robot- they learn to build a bond that will last a lifetime.Written by
"Spare Parts" is an underdog story of unusual depth and quality.
We all love a good underdog story, especially one that rings true – because it is. And all the better when that story gives us characters portrayed more deeply than just people generally frustrated by life who are simply trying to do one great thing. Then, on top of all that, if the film can explore an important social issue – and still be entertaining, well, what more can you ask? "Spare Parts" (PG-13, 1:23) does all that and more.
This film centers on four Hispanic high schoolers who were made famous by a "Wired" magazine article after they entered a national underwater robotics competition against major colleges and did better than anyone expected. The four teenage boys each bring something vital to the table. There's the robotics enthusiast – and group leader – Oscar (Carlos PenaVega), the computer genius, Christian (David Del Rio), the mechanics expert, Lorenzo (José Julián) and Luis (Oscar Gutierrez), the strong but silent type whose brawn is needed to lift the robot out of the water at the competition, but ends up contributing more than just his muscles to the team. Each of these young men is being hindered from making something of himself by serious problems in his personal life. Luis is treated by everyone as if his size and quiet manner equates to a lack of intelligence, Christian is constantly bullied, Lorenzo is expected by his harsh and demanding father (Esai Morales) to make keeping his younger brother out of trouble his purpose in life and Oscar dreams of joining the Army, but is denied because he lacks the necessary documents. That brings us to the problem that all four boys share – they are undocumented residents of the United States, brought here as young children by their parents. Each boy is constantly looking over his shoulder for immigration authorities as he tries to live his life and do right by himself and his family.
In addition to each team member's personal issues, there are interpersonal issues between some of them. It would take a strong person to get these guys to work together and help them achieve something special, in spite of their personal challenges. Enter Fredi Cameron (George Lopez), an engineer with a PhD who is having trouble finding a long-term job and settles for a position as a substitute teacher, which includes supervising the engineering club. At first reluctant to get involved in the personal lives of the students, he is sympathetic to their situations and recognizes that they all need someone to guide them – and believe in them. But he's not in this alone. He makes friends with another teacher (Marisa Tomei) who has some talents of her own to contribute to the team – and helps Dr. Cameron see the importance of the position he is in. He's also backed up by a tough, but caring principal, played by Jamie Lee Curtis. With the talent, the desire and the support to do something special, the team does their best to work through their individual challenges, get past their personal differences, and become a team that can raise the money to build their robot and hold their own in the competition.
"Spare Parts" could have been a run-of-the-mill underdog story, but it becomes something both broader and deeper than you might expect. By exploring each character's individual challenges, we get a sense of who each of these young men are – and likely end up identifying with one or more of them, regardless of whether we can relate to the specifics of their respective situations. By showing us the obstacles that these undocumented immigrants face in trying to make something of their lives – or just hold on to hope, it forces us to think about an ongoing social and political issue and what it means to real people. The script seems, at times, to sand off the rough edges from the tough circumstances it portrays, but it also tells the story with drama, humor and, especially humanity. This is an interesting, entertaining, thought-provoking and touching film. It may cause a tear, it will probably cause you to think and it will almost definitely cause you to enjoy your hour and a half in the theater. "A"
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