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Sunday, May 10, 2015

Spare Parts 2015 * * * Stars

Spare PartsDirector: Sean McNamara
Year: 2015
Rated PG-13
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Alexa PenaVega, Marisa Tomei, Jamie Lee Curtis

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 heart-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.

Written by Jesse Burleson

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