Monday, January 12, 2015

Tonight's Movie: Spare Parts (2015)

SPARE PARTS (2015), which opens this Friday, January 16th, is a very enjoyable inspirational film centered around an unusual topic, the National Underwater Robotics Competition.

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.

The film is a bit "paint by the numbers" simply in terms of the outcome not really being a surprise, given that this is clearly going to be an uplifting "underdog" story. Within the confines of that structure, however, the film has an authentically gritty atmosphere and interesting characters; the blend of drama and humor is just right, and the viewer's interest is maintained throughout, even with the outcome not really in doubt.

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.

Jamie Lee Curtis is deliciously funny in a supporting role as the energetic high school principal who deflects the stress of her job with humor. The scene where she deals with the young man who has broken into her car is unexpectedly amusing, a high point of the film for me. It's a fun, assured, and authentically "real" performance.

Marisa Tomei plays Gwen, a campus counselor who, like Cameron, has her own personal issues to deal with, but she does her best for the students in her charge. Esai Morales is the hard-drinking father of one of the boys. Alexa PenaVega, who is married to Carlos PenaVega offscreen, plays his supportive girlfriend Karla.

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.


Blogger barrylane said...

The exaltation of criminal activity is something we should all find offensive. Don't like the law? Change it, but respect and abbey the law of the land while it is in place. Laura, you made all the salient points relative to this. Wish you had gone further.

8:48 AM  

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