I’m a sucker for a feel good underdog story, and Spare Parts is just that. Directed by Sean McNamara, this film details the lives of four Carl Hayden High School students who compete against the likes of MIT at the collegiate level in an underwater robotics competition sponsored by NASA. The cast included the talents of George Lopez, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Marisa Tomei to lend weight to the film while the students, played by lesser known actors, added a fresh verisimilitude to the story.
This exciting true story examines the struggles of undocumented teens who are stuck between a desire to attend college and fulfill their American dreams and the immigration politics holding them back. Infants smuggled over the Mexican-American border by families seeking out better lives are often stuck once they become legal adults. This narrative begins with Oscar Vazquez who realizes just that after attempting to enlist in the US Army upon his 18th birthday. Vazquez, played by Carlos PenaVega, is the epitome of a teacher’s dream student–respectful, disciplined, good grades, but he’s also undocumented. His dreams are quickly shattered as he’s turned away from the recruitment office and later hunted by Immigration Control Enforcement.
Vazquez’s Plan B becomes an internship and scholarship money awarded to the winners of the underwater robotics competition, and he quickly hatches a plan to enter with the help of new substitute teacher Fredi Cameron. Cameron, played by George Lopez, is an out of work engineer who’s fallen on hard times. Lopez’s character is an amalgamation of real life teachers Allan Cameron and Fredi Lajvardi and plays this drama well. Known often for his comedy, Lopez works well here as a dramatic father figure and mentor to these young men.
Three other boys who round out the competition team (played by Jose Julian, David Del Rio, and Oscar Gutierrez) are a hodge podge of brains and brawns (a mechanic, a brainiac, the muscle to move the robot) who work well together. Each has his own back story including living in a Central Phoenix shack, sharing a small apartment with a whole slew of family members, and being virtually ignored by a father who prefers his legal son. Lopez inadvertently helps these kids find hope through dire times.
Jamie Lee Curtis plays the ditzy over eager school principal while Tomei plays another teacher who shows Cameron how to code the robot. Refreshingly, Tomei is not a love interest in this film. The main cast is rounded out by Esai Morales who plays the father of one of the boys who McNamara uses to show the conflicts between traditional Latino families and the aspiring American children they raise, although the real man behind Morales’ character never reconciles with his son the way it’s depicted in the film.
Following the competition and dramatic hollywoodized ending, the road to college success wasn’t necessarily set. Vazquez himself eventually had to return to Mexico until Illinois Senator Dick Durbin called for immigration reform. Vazquez eventually became a US citizen and served in the US Army in Afghanistan.
Spare Parts was shot primarily in New Mexico, but the opening sequence was a montage of what we love about Phoenix– the blistering sky line, the complex culture, and the mural art from local talents like Lalo Cota. The film won’t win awards, but if you’d like a feel good story that addresses the deeper issues of immigration reform, check this one out. It’s Stand and Deliver set in Phoenix with robots.
Spare Parts:[usr 4]
About Spart Parts
Synopsis: The true story of how four Phoenix high schoolers take on MIT in a robotics competition to prove themselves and prove that undocumented citizens deserve the same successes as other students.
Directors: Sean McNamara
Writers: Joshua Davis, Elissa Matsueda
Stars: George Lopez, Oscar PenaVega, Marisa Tomei, Jamie Lee Curtis
Rated: PG-13 for language and violence
Runtime: 83 minutes
Releases: January 16, 2015