2015, PG-13, 113 min. Directed by Sean McNamara. Starring George Lopez, Marisa Tomei, Carlos PenaVega, David del Rio, José Julián, J.R. Villarreal, Jamie Lee Curtis, Esai Morales.
REVIEWED By Steve Davis, Fri., Jan. 16, 2015
The David-vs.-Goliath face-off in the earnest Spare Parts treads familiar territory, ground that often teeters on the painfully cliched. Rocky Balboa, Billy Elliot, the Titans – who doesn’t like to root for the underdog, even when the odds-stacking seems ridiculously melodramatic? Here, the little guy and the big guy don’t square off in a boxing ring, or during a talent contest, or on a football field. Rather, a national underwater robotics competition provides the unlikely milieu for the showdown in this little movie that could. Based on an article published in Wired Magazine, it recounts the uphill climb of four undocumented high school students in Phoenix, Ariz., who cobble together a contraption made of Weed Eater motors, PVC pipe, masking tape, and tampons at a cost less than $800 to compete against high-tech machinery engineered with almost 20 times the price tag by highly educated students from MIT, Stanford, and other prestigious (and well-funded) universities. Admittedly, both the movie and the boys’ makeshift robot are unsophisticated creatures, but they get the job done. To its credit, the windmill-tilting in Spare Parts takes a low-key approach, although a little dramatic momentum might have enlivened the film’s home stretch a bit. But even if you aren’t already acquainted with the remarkable accomplishments of the Carl Hayden Community High School quartet, you nevertheless know how this story will end, improbably or not. Deep down, would you have it any other way?
As the students’ mentor and stand-in father figure, Lopez (who also serves as one of the film’s producers) gives Spare Parts its rough-hewn optimism, even though he’s not much of an actor. (His cadence rarely varies, so most of his line readings sound pretty much the same.) The young men portraying the four competitors make the best of their two-dimensional roles, with PenaVega’s aspiring Captain America getting most of the screen time, most likely due to his handsome visage and chiseled upper torso. Why else would this clean-cut Latin Marky Mark unexpectedly peel off his shirt in a blissfully gratuitous scene calculated to show off an admirable physique?Spare Parts may lack refinement in many respects, but it’s not a naive movie. At heart, it’s a subtle plea for immigration reform, underscoring the potential contributions that unauthorized residents in this country can provide to American society regardless of their status as noncitizens. Call it humanism, call it advocacy, call it old-fashioned entertainment – there’s little difference in the end. Whatever you call it, Spare Parts stands and delivers on its own intriguing merits.