Monday, June 19, 2017

Spare Parts




Spare Parts is an uplifting movie based on the Wired Magazine article La Vida Robot made in the same mold as the Mighty Ducks. Only here instead of ice hockey it is an underwater remote operated vehicle – robotics – contest sponsored by the Office of Naval Research and NASA.

As is with the hockey movie, the lead characters are students seemingly lost in life; they come together for a common goal, and ironically mentored by a man with issues. It is through this journey that they all go through they are able to build a better version of themselves.
Fred Cameron is a composite of Fred Lajvardi
and Allan Cameron who advised the team
Fredi Cameron (George Lopez), an engineer jumping from job to job ends up on the outskirts, in Carl Hayden Community High School, which is 92 percent Hispanic, half of whom says Principal Karen Lowry (Jamie Lee Curtis), are undocumented. Although Karen has her doubts why an engineer would be hopping jobs she accepts Fredi’s application for substitute teacher.

Karen assigned Fredi to the unpopular robotics club virtually assuring him that no one would sign up. Fredi couldn’t be happier to be just coasting his 4 month tenure as substitute teacher, until Oscar Vasquez (Carlos PenaVega) came in and asked to me mentored in joining a robotics contest. Oscar told the very skeptical Fredi that the contest was a means to an end especially for undocumented immigrants like him.  

With Fredi convinced of helping, Oscar went on with recruitment and got who would be the team brains, Cristian Arcega (David Del Rio). Fredi himself added a scrappy young mechanic Lorenzo Santillan (Jose Julian).

They now had a one-two punch, Cristian the designer is helped making his ideas real by Lorenzo who is very good with his hands. 

What makes Lorenzo so great is his ability to cannibalizing the spare parts out of anything just to make the ROV cheap. Luis Aranda (Oscar Javier Gutierrez II), they chose him for the size. The tether man who’s main job is to carry ROV and assist with adding or subtracting the slack of the tether.

From the Washington Post

Carl Hayden Community High School entered the contest against colleges instead of high school. They thought it would be a positive spin they will say to the world and themselves; losing was already an expectation, losing against college level at least mitigates that fact. Needless to say nothing went as expected.

I like the casting Spare Parts though George Lopez confuses me sometimes. Not that he’s bad actually he’s great for the role that called for occasional funny moments but not all out comedy. It’s just that when I hear his voice I keep thinking about the Rock hosting a game show.

Oscar Vasquez feels underdeveloped.  During the course of the story I keep wondering why he chose robotics as a fallback because the project was a Lorenzo-Cristian show. Luis was the muscle that much is obvious. 

From the Wired article Oscar was the leader. Maybe they blended too well cause Oscar never stood out as leader, he did what he was good at which oddly did not involve much tinkering at least compared to Lorenzo or Cristian. Only when the movie epilogue mentioned that Oscar Vasquez ends up having a degree as a Mechanical Engineer did I ever think he was into engineering.

It is in the building of a robot, the engineering, is what I like most about the movie. Spare Parts showed how scrappy the Carl Hayden Community High School robotics team was which, if you think about it, have engineering and a life lesson angle to it.

The life lesson is that you take what life gives you; if it’s not the right fit adapt it for your own purposes. Principal Lowry describes that during the course of the school year students disappear from the roll because of deportation. 

The team, all undocumented immigrants, could just lay down and wait for it to happen; Lorenzo’s dad fears it and so does Oscar’s mother. But like an engineering problem the team works to find a way out of their predicament.
The engineering angle; let’s just say I find Tony Stark designing his suit as showing how cool engineering can be in a sci-fi way, Spare Parts actually brings you to hardware stores and whatever surplus or junk shops the team were digging into. 

Parts, working parts meant for something else; they re-purposed it for their ROV. It’s not often fun to see people breaking things apart in order to build something. Women’s tampons were the highlight of this point.

I also liked how teachers here upbeat from Fredi Cameron to Gwen Kolinsky (Marisa Tomei), who’s put in there as a potential love interest, to Principal Lowry. The character of Fredi had a brokenness about him which needed a Gwen to straighten things out; from there Fredi can then straighten the kids out.


Usually in these types of films where there is an underfunded school, the principal is either the villain or at least they are the realist. They sit idly by and watch the teacher do all the work. Here Lowry is all support. She’s much more a bundle of joy than Fredi or Gwen ever was.  

Lastly and I do mean last. I think it’s a mark of a great script that Spare Parts besides being a great story but also having the best last lines in recent memory. 

The absolute last line is the beautiful ribbon to everything, neatly tied into a bow. As is with the gift you are aware of the box as you are aware of the story, it’s flow, shape, and narrative. Tie it with a bow and you get to see the whole box again see how it fits. Same with that last line. It all fits and then you’ll smile for more reasons than that line.


In Real Life: