SPARE PARTS tells the story of a group of students at Carl Hayden Community High School in Phoenix. It's a challenging environment with a high population of lower-income, illegal alien students, but a long-term substitute teacher, Dr. Fredi Cameron (George Lopez), takes a group of young men under his wing and supervises them as they build a robot for the competition on a shoestring budget. The students are played by Carlos PenaVega, David Del Rio, Jose Julian, and J.R. Villareal.
When the group arrives at the competition on the campus of UC Santa Barbara, they decide they won't feel as bad losing to college teams as they would to better-funded high schools so they decide to compete in the college division, going up against the likes of MIT, Cornell, and Virginia Tech. The results surprise everyone.
Lopez is fine as the instructor who has personal issues of his own. The young men he mentors have absent or troubled fathers and instinctively turn to Cameron as a positive father figure in their lives, but he tends to shy away from this role for reasons which become apparent later on.
My one complaint about the film is its slanted political viewpoint, with a one-sided take on illegal immigration; ICE is portrayed as downright evil. The political imbalance extends to include Gwen's attitudes on global warming and campus military recruiting and the final coda about the DREAM Act. Obviously this film is chiefly the story of some fine, talented young men and there isn't much room to delve deeply into the issues, but one has the sense the filmmakers were not welcoming to other angles regarding the complex issues raised in the film. Indeed, the film almost seems like an extended DREAM Act campaign ad.
That said, this is a well-done and interesting movie which I think is well worth seeing, with the knowledge going in that the film has a cut-and-dried viewpoint. Its positive and uplifting themes were most welcome.
SPARE PARTS was directed by Sean McNamara, who directed another solid film in the inspirational genre, SOUL SURFER (2011). This 113-minute film was written by Elissa Matsueda, inspired by the "Wired" magazine article "La Vida Robot" by Joshua Davis. It was filmed by Richard Wong.
Parental Advisory: SPARE PARTS is rated PG-13 for some language and violence. For the most part this is a family-friendly film with good messages about the importance of education and perseverance.
Trailers for SPARE PARTS may be found here and here.
Sincere thanks to Lionsgate for providing an online screener of this film for review.