SPARE PARTS – A Review by John Strange

By: John ’Doc’ Strange
Directed by: Sean McNamara
Cast: Marisa Tomei, George Lopez, Jamie Lee Curtis, Carlos Peña, Jose Julian, David Del Rio, Oscar Gutierrez, Alessandra Rosaldo, J.R. Villareal, Aubrey Miller, Alexa Vega, Esai Morales
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for some language and violence)
Selig Rating: FULL PRICE
Runtime: 113 Min.
When Dr. Fred Cameron (George Lopez) walked into Carl Hayden High School he wasn’t looking for a new career.  This down-on-his-luck engineer was desperate for a paycheck.  He wore his bad attitude toward life on his shoulder making him much like a lot of the students in the school.  The principal (Jamie Lee Curtis) is a surprise in a school like this.  Despite the burden of keeping the students in school when the majority of them are illegal aliens, she has a great attitude and an amazing sense of humor (and honor).
Fred wants to skate through this job like his last (several) job choices.  He isn’t willing to commit to doing more than the minimum.  The principal insists he be available to students who may want to join a school club.  His hope that no one would show up is shattered when Oscar Vazquez (Carlos PenaVega) comes in to see if it would be possible to enter a robotic competition.
Oscar, an ROTC cadet who has learned that being an illegal alien will prevent him from entering the Army, his dream career. He hopes that winning the competition will help him get into the Army.  The idea, while not in line with his do as little as possible desires is a challenge.  Dr. Cameron says it is possible but he will need a team in order compete.
To compete, they will need to find someone to design a robot that can submerge in a pool and be controlled to perform specific tasks in tight spaces.  They will need to find someone who can help them build the device.  And, just as importantly, they need someone who is strong enough to lift the robot out of the water.  And they need to raise money to buy the parts. 
The team is slowly built.  Cristian Arcega (David Del Rio) is saved from a bully before being recruited.  Lorenzo Santillan (José Julián), ex-gang member and mechanical genius, is recruited by force when he is blackmailed to join to prevent his suspension from school.  Luis Arranda (Oscar Gutierrez) is the heavy lifter, a football lineman who defends Cristian from the bully.
Each member of this team has their own strengths as well as their problems.  The biggest problem they face related to the competition is raising the funds to build the robot.  The boys begin canvassing the stores in their neighborhood to raise the funds.  No one is willing to help.  That is until Oscar observes the bank manager giving a man in uniform the loan he needs.  He dons his ROPTC uniform and retraces the team’s route through the neighborhood.  This time he is able to raise funds.  Not huge amounts but with some luck, it might be enough!
The team with Dr. Cameron’s help have to figure out ways to get around the costs of components.  The waterproof motors they want are hundreds of dollars each.  Lorenzo uses electric trolling motors instead.  To support the device’s components they use PVC pipes.  They give her strength and a little buoyancy without adding too much to the weight.  Other substitutions are found making the device an amazing tool filled with workarounds that are ingenious.
But the story is not just about the robot and how they build it.  These boys are each doing their best to survive.  The team has members with abusive grief-stricken fathers, ICE agents in pursuit ready to deport them, and bullies intent upon hurting them for whatever sadistic reason floats their boat.
Dr. Cameron is in the same boat as his boys.  We find that his life was stable until the tragedy struck.  He lost his daughter and can’t get his life back on track.  Since her death he has moved from job to job, just not caring right up until he arrived at Carl Hayden High School.  Little bit by little bit, his heart begins to open up as he deals with the boys project and helps them survive the daily pain in their lives.
Finally, after much work and heartache, the robot is ready to go.  The team heads out, one teacher and four boys, in a van that looks like it is on its last leg.  The team travel from Phoenix to the competition at the University of California, Santa Barbara.  Once there they decide to compete in the college level.
Their competition is schools like MIT and Cal Tech.  These schools spend thousands on their robots.  The students who go to the competition are well versed in all aspects of the robot and its abilities and capabilities.  This is important as 30% of the score from the competition comes from the oral exam given to each member of the team individually.  Carl Hayden’s weak link is Luis Arranda, football jock.  He is not as smart about the types of things required here as the rest of the team.  The other boys tutor him constantly leading up to his examination.
The team hits a snag when they test the device on their first day at the event.  They had used a pelican case to hold the batteries and controls to allow them to reduce the size and weight of the control cables.  Their imaginative solution is both brilliant and hilarious.  A young man that age should NEVER have to go into a public store to buy tampons!
The competition is very well shot.  The robots built by the boys’ competition are amazing but none can make it all of the way through the objectives to hit a perfect score.  The kids are all grilled in the oral exams and their answers especially Luis, are excellent.  The results are a surprise to everyone, especially the colleges and universities that sent teams. 
This is an amazing story of facing your demons and persevering.  The boys and their advisor grow from a bunch of individuals who are facing demons to a team of winners who are willing to face whatever comes their way.
At the end of the film we are filled in on what happened to each of the members of the team.  The boys all go on to live good lives, even Oscar.  His life took a bad turn but even his life turns out great in the end!  This is the type of film that we all look forward to seeing.  It has great characters and a strong story.  Spare Parts is the movie you want to take your kids to.  They need to see that you CAN win despite long odds!
The Selig Rating Scale:
FULL PRICE – Excellent movie, well worth the price
MATINEE – Good movie
DOLLAR – OK movie
CABLE – No need to rush. Save it for a rainy day.
FREEBIE – Good that I saw it on the big screen but wish I hadn't paid for it.
COMMERCIAL TV – Commercials and cutting to the allotted time will not hurt this one.
FORGET IT! – Bad. If you see this one, do yourself a favor and keep it to yourself.
GET YOUR TORCHES – BAD! – Burn the script, the writer, the director and maybe even the actors!
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