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George Lopez loved working with ‘Spare Parts’

Everyone (or most everyone) loves an underdog, and “David vs. Goliath” storylines long have been popular in Hollywood films. One of the latest examples is “Spare Parts,” starring George Lopez, Marisa Tomei, Jamie Lee Curtis, Carlos and Alexa Pena Vega, and Esai Morales.

The film, based on a true story penned by Joshua Davis, is about four Hispanic students at an underperforming, inner-city Arizona high school who form a robotics club. With no experience, only $800 and used car parts, this unlikely group of budding engineers goes on to compete for a national award against some of the most acclaimed engineering colleges in the nation — including M.I.T.

In a recent chat, Lopez — who plays the kids’ faculty advisor and mentor, Fredi Cameron — told me that he often “reads something like this, but it then never really translates correctly to the screen. The expectations are high, but it doesn’t deliver. In this case, however, we wanted to make a nice little, inspiring film, and I believe we succeeded.”

The actor and comedian went on to explain that the underlying story is about teenagers “who exhibit humility, compassion, determination, drive and togetherness. I was pleased to get involved with this. Today, our society right now is about everyone being more concerned with posting pictures online, or living an alternative life in cyberspace.

“This ‘Spare Parts’ movie is what all kids should be about. It’s about individuality, but also what can happen when you all pull together in the same direction and create teamwork. We have heroes and underdogs in this film. … Those are the kinds of films I particularly like and will watch at any particular time,” said Lopez, who admitted that “especially when my life is not going exactly in the direction I’d like — I find that some of those movies help me to reboot and get back on track.

“I’m hoping ‘Spare Parts’ will someday be considered one of them, too.”

When asked about the real people portrayed in the film, Lopez said he did get to meet them all. “The script had gone through several different changes. At one point, in the beginning of the project, the kids were not really happy with how it portrayed them. It was a little bit gratuitous and took advantage of some things. When I got on board, I kind of got it. I understood how they felt.

“We had to make this a movie where the real kids are proud to see it. We didn’t want to change the details so much that they would go, ‘Hey! That’s not us! That’s not what happened!’ ”

Lopez was delighted that after the film was completed, the normally very taciturn Cameron “thanked us and then totally broke down in tears. It came completely out of left field, but, as you can imagine, it really affected all of us who worked on the movie.”

Asked if he learned anything about robotics, Lopez laughed. “Just enough to make this film. I’m pretty techno-challenged.” In his own teen years, he and some buddies tried to make model cars jump up and down. “We used a motor, wires and a battery. Everyone’s worked but mine,” said Lopez with a big laugh.

A subplot to “Spare Parts” focuses on the fact a number of the boys in the real-life competition were undocumented illegal immigrants. It’s something that Lopez said will resonate with a lot of people who watch the film. “When they see what those guys have done and what their school has done since that competition to continue to challenge all of the students, is amazing. It’s wonderful. They are graduating kids — both male and female — who have gone on and become engineers. It’s an amazing little gem of a school in Arizona [Carl Hayden High School]. It’s not necessarily in a neighborhood where you would want to be at night,” said Lopez. “But you can see that a bunch of these intelligent kids came from there. … It’s all about giving kids a chance.

The actor believes that “Spare Parts” proves that “all lives matter. All kids matter, and all dreams matter. As things as they are currently, I realize we still have a long way to go. I just watched a documentary on 1964 and we have a lot of the same problems today that we had 50 years ago. We can only get better if we pull together and understand different people and different cultures. Kids have an incentive now to make that happen. I believe in that hopeful spirit,” added Lopez.