In 2004, four ambitious Hispanic high schoolers in Phoenix—three of them undocumented immigrants, all of them underdogs with limited resources and prospects—defeated MIT’s brightest (and better-bankrolled) in an underwater-robotics competition.
Already the subject of a documentary last year, Soul Surfer director Sean McNamara’s family-friendly frivolity shoehorns the incredible true story into a formulaic Stand and Deliver knockoff with no rough edges and the production values of an after-school special.
George Lopez certainly doesn’t have the acting chops of an Edward James Olmos, but his sincerity resonates as the substitute teacher and former engineer who coaches the kids to victory, while Marisa Tomei and Jamie Lee Curtis phone in their respective peripheral roles as “affectionate colleague” and “optimistic principal.”
The boys themselves are a motley A-Team of broadly defined qualities, between the ROTC cadet and natural-born leader, the bullied math nerd, the delinquent with daddy issues and a penchant for mechanics, and the gentle giant who “surprisingly” impresses in the verbal portion of the contest.
Calculated to please the growing Hispanic filmgoing audience, this blatantly big-hearted product isn’t half as vibrant as the original 2005 Wired article on which it’s based, and myopically neglects to address Arizona’s troubling anti-immigration legislation through even a splash of hindsight.