COURTESY WIRED.COM "Spare Parts" tells the inspirational story of a group of Hispanic high schoolers that pursue their passion for robotics against all odds.
“Spare Parts” tells the true story of a group of Hispanic high schoolers that pursue their passion for robotics against all odds.

Around five years ago, George Lopez was preparing to tape an episode of his TBS talk show “Lopez Tonight” when a script slid across his desk.

That script would eventually be developed into the film “Spare Parts.” The movie chronicles the unlikely story of a group of undocumented immigrant high schoolers who come together to build a robot that would compete in a nation-wide underwater robotics competition. The film’s three protagonists, Oscar (Carlos PenaVega), Lorenzo (José Juliàn), and Cristian (David Del Rio) contend with problems that range from immigration status to school funding to broken families.

The characters’ issues speak volumes. Oscar was smuggled across the border at age six, shivering in the back of a van as he tried not to vomit. Cristian was stuck in a school with a dismal academic program while he was savagely beaten by jocks. Lorenzo’s mother was taken away by immigration, leaving him to care for his delinquent brother.

These boys find themselves banded together through their similar background and circumstances, and their fortitude leads them to an Olympic-sized swimming pool at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where they dare to sidestep the high school competition and go straight for the university level. The boys construct an $800 robot —compared to the $18,000 machine built by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology team. The part that I love most about this film’s plot is that it is true.

In 2005, Joshua Davis chronicled the story of the three Carl Hayden Community High School students who managed to overcome the odds. The story almost seemed too good to be true.

“The story is so compelling that you don’t want to make things up that aren’t true,” Lopez, who produced and starred in the film as Fredi Cameron, said during a roundtable interview. “We didn’t want these kids to see this story and say ‘I don’t know whose story that is, that’s not us.’”

Carlos PenaVega agreed.

“You try and stay as true as possible, but as an actor you try to bring a little bit of yourself and your character that you want to portray into it,” PenaVega said.

In that way, the movie stays very close to the truth. This sort of validity makes the movie’s message all the more powerful.

This film is a groundbreaking piece. It takes the sort of awe-inspiring underdog story structure usually reserved for football teams and wrestling championships and applies it to two distinct audiences that are often overlooked: techies and Hispanics. Having grown up with two brothers who were fascinated by robotics and technology, it was refreshing to see a respectable portrayal of their passion on screen, and the movie gives Hispanics much-needed screen time. The film tells young aspiring engineers that money is not necessary to pursue passion. A young technician can simply grab a PVC pipe and tampons (used as waterproofing in the film) and get started on his dream.

It may not be the slickest, most high-tech invention on the block, but it will be all the more cherished for its originality and the amount of combined effort involved in the project.

“Spare Parts” has a message that transcends its two distinct audiences and makes it enjoyable for everyone. It is a film that tells you that no dream is out of reach. While that cliched statement sounds more appropriate on the back of a Hallmark card, in this case it’s true. This movie does what many movies attempt but fail: it inspires its viewer without being condescending or farfetched.

A person can walk away from this film and feel as if he or she can take up a new skill and truly succeed as well. After following this story, one almost feels compelled to change the current political system to help immigrants and help to fund under-performing schools.

This film might not be the wise satire of “Dear White People,” nor is it the fantasy escape of “The Hobbit,” but it achieves similar goals. The viewer learns, the viewer is entertained, and the viewer is motivated to act. This is a film worth seeing.

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