Spare Parts (2015)

Spare Parts (2015)
  • Time: 83 min
  • Genre: Drama
  • Director: Sean McNamara
  • Cast: George Lopez, Marisa Tomei, Jamie Lee Curtis, Carlos PenaVega


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.


  • Around March of this year, I saw McFarland, USA. It was lightweight, breezy, and culture-based. It also made me believe in Kevin Costner again not to mention any added faith in the almighty sports flick. 2015’s Spare Parts (my latest review) doesn’t have a lick to do with cross country running (“McFarland’s” vital concern). But the themes are similar. You have the unruly school, the teacher who takes a job at said school only as temporary until something better comes along, the students who are deemed underprivileged while being told of their place in life, and the unheralded, long shot circumstances that affect every denizen involved. Costner’s spring release sort of found its audience. “Parts” didn’t exactly find theirs (underwater, robotics competition as plot fodder isn’t the most sexy choice for your everyday moviegoer). Regardless, this is a film that still wrestles up enough inspiration to suffice at least a solid rental. Spare Parts is for the most part, “sparingly” good.

    Technically, this eighty-three minute exercise was unleashed into theaters two months before the aforementioned “McFarland”. Therefore, it would be hard-pressed not to give it its rightful due. The similitude factor is enormous but I think “Parts” veers in a more telling direction. The script here brims with plenty of effective, engineering lingo. Therefore, it’s a neat trick when the filmmakers know what they’re talking about, true story sensibilities are cradled, and research to avoid dumbing down the cinematic patron seems hard-fought.

    Shot entirely in Albuquerque, New Mexico (which masquerades as Phoenix, Arizona), based on true events, and taking place in the early 2000’s, Spare Parts is affecting and grandiose despite containing some unintentional, TV movie interludes. Director Sean McNamara utilizes virtual unknowns (David Del Rio, Carlos PenaVega), resurfacing troupers (Esai Morales), and familiar actors/actresses (George Lopez, Marisa Tomei, Jamie Lee Curtis) to hurry things along. The story begins by chronicling non-fictional, Carl Hayden Community High School. Its newest teacher isn’t really a teacher, he’s an engineer. He goes by the name of Mr. Fredi Cameron (George Lopez) and he takes a job there to bide his time. He’s knows that this is not his life’s calling but needs the work and likes to educate young minds. He also has to tend to a club that meets after class. This is a club with no members (at the moment) and it’s suppose to deal in computer science along with you guessed it, robotics. When someone shows up, he’s hesitant but eventually listens to the idea of getting a team together. This team of four high schoolers will build a robot (with a budget of only $800), venture to Santa Barbara, California, and go up against MIT students in a competitive environment. They consist of Oscar Vazquez (played by Carlos Pena, Jr.), Christian Arcega (played by David Del Rio), Luis Arranda (played by Oscar Gutierrez), and Lorenzo Santillan (played by Jose Julian). They for the most part, don’t know each other from Adam and are all in different cliques (one of them is oafish and friendly, another has aspirations of being in the US Army, one of them is nerdy but smart as a tack, and the rebel in the group can fix anything, especially cars). But they come together for one common goal: They want to use their expedition as footing for getting college scholarships. This is where the feel good element comes into play. Going into Spare Parts, I didn’t think a film about this type of subject matter would grab me. Well it does. The filmmakers thrive on flair while giving every other movie cliche the heave-ho.

    Now I’ve gotta admit, George Lopez really surprised me in the lead role here. His Fredi Cameron employs seriousness, doubt, and some surmised guilt. With a shade of grey goatee and a downplayed persona, he almost completely resembles Kevin Costner’s real-life Jim White (in personality mind you, not looks). He really works well with the young cast and somehow breaks away from his nutso comedic screen time via the self-titled sitcom, George Lopez (but of course).

    All in all, despite harboring some underdeveloped characters (at a running time of under an hour and a half, it seems unavoidable), some banal characters (the disapproving, stubborn father, the teacher with a past, the token female love interest/teacher co-worker), and a final credits montage where the real-life people involved, aren’t split-screened next to the actors playing them (I feel this is necessary to avoid confusion), Spare Parts still gets my recommendation. It was a joy on screen, to see these four youthful, highly intelligent players poised to make something of themselves despite their illegal immigration status. You want them to succeed and you want them to at least find their unequivocal Waterloo. Overall, this is a vehicle that ranks among the best I’ve seen so far this year. It’s an underdog unguarded. My rating: 3 stars.

    Of note: In regards to the film’s designation, Spare Parts comes off as a little obvious and ordinary. This is an inspirational, mildly hear tugging feature that deserves a more honorable title than something having to do with repairables and consumables (boring). Now I don’t have any clout and it’s probably too late, but might I suggest “La Vida Robot” (the article in Wired Magazine that “Parts” was adapted from) or maybe even the simplistic, Carl Hayden High. That’s my two cents. You can take it or leave it.

    Rating: 3 out of 4 stars

    Check out other reviews on my blog:

  • “No matter what happens up there, I don’t want the word “Hooters” coming out of your mouth.”

    Is your mood not that positive and you’ve lost your faith in things, then I advise you to go and watch this movie, because this is a feel-good movie of the first rank. After watching this “everything-is-possible” movie, maybe you’re going to realize that things aren’t that bad and that for every hopeless situation there’s a solution. You should only believe in it and grab every opportunity with both hands. Nothing seems impossible as long as you don’t waste your perseverance. Voila, thus the positive tone of this film has been set. It’s a film that contains all the ingredients needed to make some kind of Disney-like story in which a group of students without a future (and some without identity) and looked at as outcasts and hopeless underdogs, have to compete against individuals who have everything and whose future looks promising. Without much effort you can mention countless movies dealing with the struggle of the weak against the strong (like “The Karate Kid”, “October Sky”, “The Blind Side”, “Forrest Gump”, “Major League” …)

    “Spare Parts” also belongs in this list. Young people of Mexican descent, most undocumented, are attending a high school in Phoenix and being assisted by passionate teachers and an enthusiastic director (Jamie Lee Curtis), despite their sometimes desperate situation, so they can obtain a proper education. Fredi Cameron (George Lopez), an engineer, is apparently desperately looking for a job and therefore applies for the vacant position as temporary science teacher. At the insistence of Oscar (Carlos Pena Vega), who due to the lack of a birth certificate can’t enlist in the US Army, Fredi accompanies a group of students to compete in a national robot competition against renowned universities such as MIT and Virginia Tech.

    The sad thing about such “underdog-contending-with-a-superior-group” films, is that the outcome is already known before the film started. An additional issue covered in this film is the problem of people living illegally in the USA. The constant threat of being arrested and deported, is regularly brought up. Furthermore, the known clich├ęs aren’t eschewed either. The sympathetic teacher who acts as a father figure and apparently suffers of a trauma out of the past (although this is not really explained in detail in this film). The romance that blossoms between him and fellow teacher Marisa Tomei (Gwen Kolinsky), a single mother who also happens to know a bit of programming. The animosity between the young people that slowly turns into an intense friendship. And of course the ultimate denouement which is so obvious. Although I had to restrain myself from spontaneously bursting into an applause. But that’s usually the objective of such a movie.

    Certainly you can’t say this film is truly original, but the performances are admirable. The diversity of the teenagers and their array of talents ensure both funny and heartfelt moments. Maybe at times a little bit too corny. Oscar is the driven leader. Christian (David Del Rio) is the intellectual who has a proper scientific solution for every problem posed. Lorenzo (Jose Julian) is the electronics specialist and Hector (JR Villarreal) is not the brightest of them all but surely is useful when it comes to lifting things. Both the interaction between these characters and the way they build a prototype with cheap material and spare parts (even tampons solve a problem) creates humorous moments. And I thought Jamie Lee Curtis was a surprise as a supporting act. A director who uses non-conventional methods for running a school. Brilliant at times.

    “Spare Parts” certainly isn’t a blockbuster and will appear in the VOD circuit. It’s no more than a TV movie based on a true story, as so many movies have already been broadcasted. The most captivating moment was when Jamie Lee Curtis announced the results via the intercom, and you see that nobody is really listening. A brief moment so meaningful : a school community where certain individuals do well-intentioned efforts and you realize that this school community show no interest in it at all. Fortunately, it’s not always like that !

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