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Monday, September 14, 2015

Movie Review - Spare Parts

George Lopez fans will be delighted with this wonderful little film costarring Marisa Tomei, one of my favorite actresses. Based on a truth, the story is a classic underdog tale set in the Hispanic community of Phoenix, Arizona, where the hard life of immigrant families provides a gloomy backdrop.
Lopez portrays Dr. Fredi Cameron, an unemployed engineer with a broken past who lands a job as a temporary science teacher at Carl Hayden Community High School. Jamie Lee Curtis, the school’s principal (Karen Lowrey), is a hilarious, scene-stealing, no-nonsense administrator who rules with an iron fist, softened by a dry wit and spunky attitude. Even though Cameron isn’t technically qualified for the job, Lowrey gives him a chance to prove himself. Under her limited guidance and with the friendship of Gwen Kolinsky (Tomei), a fellow faculty member, Cameron settles into his new life as a lonely school teacher.
Separate from Lopez’s story is the heart-breaking saga of four Hispanic boys trying to survive in a world where poverty, abuse, harassment from immigration authorities, and stifling generational convictions threaten to hold them down. First, there is, Oscar Vazquez (Carlos PenaVega), a gung-ho ROTC student who dreams of being in the US Army. When his illegal status renders it impossible for him to enlist, he changes course and determines to compete in a underwater robotics event which attracts top colleges from all over the country—most notably, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). With Lowrey’s blessing, Cameron agrees to be the faculty mentor and advisor, and the two set out to add three more students to the team.
Enter Lorenzo Santillan (Jose Julian), a mechanics whiz who, unfortunately, uses his expertise to break into cars and other nefarious crimes, Cristian Arcega (David Del Rio), an electronics nerd always on the run from school bullies, and Luis Aranda (Oscar Gutierrez), a gentle giant with a quiet intellect. With a bit of creative persuasion, Cameron convinces the boys to come together and prepare to make a serious effort at competing, despite their lack of family support and financial means. They agree, and the battle begins. Limited funds require resourcefulness which result in the boys coming up with unusual materials to build their machine, hence the title, Spare Parts. This obstacle in the story provides for several funny scenes that make the movie sweet and endearing. In addition, the chemistry between Lopez and Tomei adds a nice bit of levity to the drama.
** SPOILER ALERT **
The main plotlines weave through the lives of Vazquez and Santillan. Vazquez feels like a colossal failure, and therefore, lies to his mother regarding his military enlistment. When he isn’t on the run from rogue immigration officers, he nurtures a fledgling romance with the beautiful Karla (Alexa PenaVega), which provides some hope of happiness. However, without a dramatic turn in his circumstances (such as winning the robotics competition), the viewer is aware Vazquez’s future in the US is very bleak.
Santillan’s story is more heartbreaking because of the blatant unfairness of his circumstances. His alcoholic father, Pablo (a great performance by Esai Morales), prefers his wayward son over Santillan, thinking the younger child’s legal status will guarantee success and thereby raise the family above its dismal situation. In an effort to preserve this plan, Santillan is charged with the duty of being his brother’s keeper, which proves to be an impossible task. His brother’s arrest causes turmoil between father and son, and Santillan is forced to quit the robotics team. Sadly, Pablo is blind to Santillan’s intellect and frequently reinforces his lack of faith in that regard. It is an all too familiar, sad story of a child not receiving the unconditional love of a parent.
Cameron’s cold heart slowly melts as he learns the plight of these four young men and how the unfairness of life threatens to kill their dreams of success. Just as he begins to operate more as loving father than mentor, he gets spooked and considers quitting and taking an engineering job. The boys are devastated but are still determined to compete in the robotics competition. Little do they know, but Cameron is harboring his own tragic loss that has gone unspoken for a very long time.
Eventually, Vazquez and Santillan work through their family woes, and the team becomes more focused than ever. Seeing their newfound commitment, Cameron turns down the engineering job and accompanies the boys to the competition. With the assistance of Lowrey and Kolinsky, the Carl Hayden robotics team makes a momentous entrance into the world of competitive robotics; despite the odds of success, their make-shift contraption built on spare parts and a shoe string budget outshines the state-of-the-art machines entered by top tier schools. Like other great underdog stories, perseverance and faith win the day, and the team is victorious, defeating the figurative Goliath of the competition, MIT. And as an extra bonus, Santillan has the unexpected pleasure of having Pablo attend just in time to see the top award delivered. Definitely a hanky moment!
Spare Parts is an enjoyable, entertaining flick that makes one laugh and touches the heart as well. A fresh side of the immigration issue is shown which sheds some light on the stress illegal status places on good, hard-working families. While the film doesn’t make a political argument per se, the topic was presented, leaving the viewer compassionate for the innocent victims.
Memorable and touching, this gem of a movie is highly recommended for family audiences! Available now at Redbox.

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