Some may be reluctant to admit it, but even the most hardcore art film fanatics amongst us have a soft spot for sappy, inspirational Hollywood fables — especially when they’re true stories. I mean, who doesn’t get all teary-eyed when the quixotic Jamaican bobsledders from Cool Runnings pick up their sled and walk with dignified grace over the finish line they were never supposed to cross? Or when the S.J. and Michael lead the players onto the field at the end of The Blind Side? Truth is, there’s something about underdog stories that’s about as American as Rocky Balboa, which is why, after decades of playing gangbangers and drug addicts, it’s about time that we Latinos got our own addition to the genre.
Thanks to Lionsgate and Patelion Films, that time is now. Spare Parts, the latest commercial tearjerker from the Latino-oriented studio that brought us Instructions Not Included features a greying George Lopez as the archetypal motivational teacher who leads a ragtag band of underprivileged Latino high schoolers on an impossible quest to dethrone MIT at an underwater robotics competition. And it’s a true story. Sure, director Sean McNamara’s filmography may have hit a high point with 3 Ninjas: High Noon at Mega Mountain, and the heavyweight actors filling out the cast (Marisa Tomei, Jamie Lee Curtis) seem to be thinking more about their paychecks than emotional truth, but at least it’s a heartwarming recognition of the work of some unlikely heroes, several of whom also happened to be undocumented immigrants.
And for those who might find the Spare Parts movie just a little too sugary sweet after all that holiday flan and dulce de leche there is a much more straightforward documentary making the rounds that takes a look back at the dramatic competition that made these four Phoenix boys the stuff of legend, then follows up by exploring their impact on the hopes and ambitions of the local high school students who have come up in their wake. Directed by Mary Mazzio, Underwater Dreams has been making its way across the U.S. in special screenings since earlier this year.
Spare Parts opens nationwide on January 16, 2015.