Spare Parts is based upon the real life story of four undocumented Mexican students from Carl Hayden High School who managed to build an underwater remote operated vehicle (a robot) to participate in a robotics competition hosted by the University of California, Santa Barbara. Against all odds, this team was able to beat prestigious universities including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. As an engineering student who was rejected from MIT, I enjoy any story about MIT getting humbled by a smaller opponent. My main issue with the movie is that it fails to stray from the typical story elements of an underdog story.
The team is formed by an idealist leader looking for a better life, who in this movie is Carlos Vazquez (Carlos PenaVega), a young illegal immigrant who wanted to join the US army. Carlos asks for the aid of Fredi Cameron (George Lopez), a jaded engineer who has become a substitute teacher at Carl Hayden High School. Carlos forms a rag tag team with Cristian Arcega (David Del Rio), the school nerd, Lorenzo Santillan (José Julián), a young auto mechanic and Luis Arranda (Oscar Javier Gutierrez II), a high school football player. The team struggles at first, but eventually learns how to work together. Disaster strikes the night before the competition, but the team manages to pull together and solve the problem, winning the competition. The problem is that this plot scheme has been used in countless better films such as Remember the Titans and Stand and Deliver.
My biggest problem with the film is George Lopez’s performance. George plays the team advisor, Fredi Cameron. According to the movie, Cameron has a PhD in engineering, yet, Lopez hardly spends more than 2 minutes in the entire film talking about engineering. Lopez spends more time cracking jokes or telling his team cliché platitudes that are essentially variations of “we can do it” or “look how far we have come.” The film goes to great lengths to emphasize that each boy on the team has serious family issues to deal with, yet Cameron never acts very nurturing or kind to his young pupils. Instead, Lopez tries to play into his wheelhouse by acting funny and quirky, totally misplaying the role of a mentor. Lopez’s ridiculous performance as an “educated” engineer made it difficult for me to take this movie seriously. Del Rio, Julián and PenaVega do their best to portray the serious problems that the boys dealt with at home, but their genuine attempts are thwarted by Lopez’s idiotic performance.
Spare Parts is based upon a truly extraordinary story. As an engineering student, I have nothing but admiration for the ingenious high school students this movie was based upon. However, it is clear to me that neither director, nor the screenwriters, nor Lopez were brave enough to create a unique movie. The story is amazing, but the movie is thoroughly unoriginal.