Saturday, January 17, 2015

Spare Parts

I'll admit, this movie wasn't my first plan for last night, but sometimes the MBTA makes that decision for you by having both the bus and the train be delayed/slow. The irony is that this was probably a better movie than the one I was planning to see, although who knows if I can even give the other a fair chance (on the other hand, I can't imagine how I would have received it frustrated from the T).

Still, I liked this one, and was impressed that there seemed to be a good slate of Latino-targeted movies coming up in the next few months. Lionsgate has a label for that now, and Fox International seems to be stepping its game up too. I don't necessarily think all of the movies we saw previews for will actually play this particular theater, but just seeing a subtitled preview in a mainstream multiplex feels like kind of a small victory.

On the other hand, seeing the trailers for Black and White and McFarland, USA just about back-to-back makes me a little uncomfortable for Kevin Costner, even if the new one for McFarland doesn't include the scene of him assuming his student's father can't speak English. It's got to kind of suck to be in the middle of a couple of months where people come out of practically every movie they see associating you with being kind of prejudiced.

Spare Parts

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 16 January 2015 in AMC Boston Common #9 (first-run, DCP)

If I believed in guilty pleasures, I might count movies like Spare Parts among them, even though there's not much worth feeling bad about where it's concerned. Sure, it breaks almost no new ground at all, following its formula closer than it really needs to. On the other hand, it does so with general good humor and without being patronizing, and if you can't enjoy a science-underdogs story that avoids the pitfalls, then here can't be much that makes you happy.

The underdogs in this case are students at an overcrowded, underfunded community high school in Phoenix, Arizona. Dr. Fredi Cameron (George Lopez) has just taken on a four-month gig as a substitute teacher, technically supposed to advise a club that has no members until Oscar Vazquez (Carlos PenaVega), unable to enlist in the army despite his excellent JROTC record because he cannot produce a birth certificate, shows up with a flyer about an underwater robotics competition. They wind up recruiting others for the team - math wiz Cristian Arcega (David Del Rio), mechanic Lorenzo Santillan (Jose Julian), and Cristian's sometime-protector Luis Arranda (Oscar Guitierrez) - but challenges naturally arise, both from their nonexistent budget and from the fact that all four teens are undocumented.

Director Sean McNamara is a workhorse - he has three other movies scheduled to come out in 2015 - mostly working in children's television and direct-to-video work, and even the occasional film like this or Soul Surfer that sees theatrical release is in the same family-friendly category; it's pretty far from all gems. He and screenwriter Elissa Matseuda (working from an article in Wired by Joshua Davis) know what they're going for here, though, and the combination of experience and efficiency means that the movie is a fairly well-oiled machine, and there's a pretty good idea of where the line is between entertaining kids and patronizing them. The story is straightforward, but there's no talking down to the audience, and both technical challenges and the difficulties of living in these kids' situations are presented with clarity. The jokes are clean and safe, but land well enough.

Full review at EFC.

No comments: