Spare Parts online movie review - Unfortunately suffers by comparison to a similar, far superior film
Earlier in 2015, we had the underrated, and criminally underseen, McFarland, USA, a Disney-branded sports drama about a group of Latino cross-country runners that became national headline-makers following their accomplishments in a state-wide competition.
The film starred Kevin Costner and, despite its Disney namesake, was a truly inspirational and well-done film that emphasized humanity and cultural significance above everything else, in turn, producing a film that was aware of its minority characters as people and not just minorities.
Sean McNamara's far less-seen, and much less-discussed, Spare Parts, which came out a full month before McFarland, USA, proves what happens when humanity and cultural significance is discarded in favor of telling a feel-good story audiences can see without having what they love and cherish being challenged every day. The film tells the story of Carl Heyden High School, an underprivileged, predominately Latino high school, which went on to beat M.I.T. in the 2004 underwater national robotics competition.
The film revolves around Fredi Cameron (George Lopez), an engineer who decides to take a substitute position at Carl Heyden High School and subsequently start an engineering club he feels no student in their right mind would join. Much to the disbelief of himself and the school's principal (Jamie Lee Curtis), Oscar Vazquez (Carlos PenaVega), a U.S. Army hopeful, shows interest in his club and decides to join it and help promote underwater robotics engineering as the club's central focus. The club would be focused around constructing, perfecting, and entering a robot built for underwater endurance tests to compete against some of the top technological schools in the country.
In an act of desperation, Fredi finds kids like the optimistic Cristian (David Del Rio), the troublemaker Lorenzo (José Julián), and the oversized outcast Luis (Oscar Gutierrez) to join his underwater robotics club in efforts to solidify its chances in a national competition. With that, the group must overcome tough financial barriers that other schools can easily bypass in efforts to prove themselves as worthy competitors, in addition to gaining the approval and support of family members, who view their extra-curricular endeavor as nothing more than a distraction from real work.
McFarland, USA was a noteworthy film because it showed Kevin Costner's Jim White character actually getting involved with the lives of his runners in order to understand their homelives. White realizes that while he complained about having his own problems, he didn't have to wake up hours before school every morning to work hunched over in a field, harvesting food in order to assure a complete meal that same day. Lopez's Fredi character doesn't experience the same immersion, and if he does, it's flawed because Fredi has already lived the lives many of his students are currently living. He has nothing really to learn upon reluctantly starting the club. The only time he tries to become involved with the lives of his students is when he goes over to Lorenzo's home to confront his father - after getting drunk off of tequila, nonetheless - about forcing Lorenzo, an illegal immigrant like most of his family, to take the blame for the actions of his little brother, who has citizenship, in order to keep his record clean. As expected, this scene is more confrontational than anything else and simply allows us to see how Fredi can overstep his boundaries every now and then.
But because this family angle is lacking, most of the boys, who are wickedly intelligent and crafty when it comes to designing a robot and working out the bugs and inevitable tribulations with little to no help from Fredi, and their families just seem like vapid caricatures with vague development. Furthermore, Spare Parts lacks those crowdpleasing moments that McFarland, USA had punctuated in very frequently, not for cheap dramatic effect, but to showcase constant progress on the boys' behalf. Those moments transition to back-patting moments when they should be electric, given how much these kids achieve with how little they have.
As stated, it's tough reviewing Spare Parts, which, again, came out first in the United States, when you're constantly comparing it to another, better film that came out a month later. But even if McFarland, USA didn't come out at all in 2015, it doesn't excuse the painful adequacy that is Spare Parts, a fine, but ultimately forgettable, story that shows that a lack of privilege doesn't give you a lack of creative options in a way that doesn't humanize nor seem captivated by its characters enough to explore them as human beings.
Starring: George Lopez, Carlos PenaVega, David Del Rio, José Julián, Oscar Gutierrez, and Jamie Lee Curtis. Directed by: Sean McNamara.