There wasn’t a visible red carpet or dozens of commentators describing the scenery in minute detail. But a special screening of the new movie “Spare Parts” was an event for the estimated 900 Valley area students crammed inside the auditorium of San Fernando High School.
The movie opened publicly on Friday, Jan. 16, in 440 theaters and grossed $1.6 million in its first four days, according to boxofficemojo.com. It stars actor and comedian George Lopez, a Valley kid himself who graduated from San Fernando High in 1979 and has enjoyed a successful career in television, film and his live comedy shows.
The movie is based on a true story — “La Vida Robot,’’ published in Wired Magazine in 2005 — about four undocumented Latino high school students from Carl Hayden Community High School in Phoenix, AZ who formed a robotics club. With the help of a substitute teacher and $800 in donations, they went on to win a  competition, besting college teams that included Cornell, Stanford, and defending champion MIT.
On Jan. 15, San Fernando High played host to busloads of students from Arleta, Cesar Chavez, Eat Valley, Grant, Kennedy, Monroe, Poly, Sun Valley and Van Nuys high schools. The students were treated to snacks and enjoyed the music of Mariachi Tesoro de San Fernando before settling into the auditorium for the 83-minute movie.
Lopez did not attend the screening — he spoke to the audience from a recorded video shown before the film — but made his presence felt in other ways.
He is heading up a fundraiser with Omaze for the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). Students and others can go to the website www.omaze.com/lopez and, for as little as a $10 donation, can win a chance to cruise Hollywood’s Sunset Strip with Lopez in a tricked-out lowrider car, plus dinner at a Beverly Hills restaurant. You must be at least 13 years old to enter. Winners under 18 years of age must be accompanied by a legal parent or guardian.
The contest began on Jan. 13, and will continue through Feb. 19. Winners will be announced on social media on Feb. 23. The proceeds go to the LA Fund for Public Education on behalf of the district ,and to support two of its divisions — Beyond the Bell, for afterschool and weekend activities, and the Arts Education Branch, for activities during school hours.
“George has partnered with LAUSD through the LA Fund to raise funds for arts education,” said Cynthia Montalbano, the community outreach liaison for Beyond The Bell. “It’s not just to raise awareness in the district, but also the communities to support arts education through this contest. This is one of many campaigns we will be doing to raise awareness for arts education throughout Los Angeles.”
The cast includes several high-profile actors including Oscar winner Marisa Tomei, Golden Globes winner Jamie Lee Curtis, and ALMA winner Esai Morales.
Two other cast members, married actors and musicians Carlos PenaVega and Alexa PenaVega, did attend the screening. (Carlos Pena and Alexa Vega were wed on Jan. 4, 2014, and decided to merge their last names.)
Carlos PenaVega plays “Oscar Vazquez,” one of the four students, and has built a strong fan base from his six years on the Nickelodeon series “Big Time Rush” about an American pop boy band (which has also released three albums). He has been the host of the game show “Webheads,” and appeared in other television shows including “ER” and “Judging Amy.”
“Spare Parts” is his first dramatic film role.
“This was a complete departure for me,” Carlos PenaVega said. “On “Big Time Rush” it was the same character — crazy, goofy, cartoony. This was a really serious role. In real life Oscar Vazquez, we’ve only seen him smile 3-4 times. But, you know, that’s what made it challenging for me.”
Alexa PenaVega — whose film credits include “Spy Kids” ‘Twister,” and “Machete Kills” — plays “Karla,” who met and eventually married Oscar.
“You have to bring some of what you want to bring to every character, even if you’re emulating someone [alive],” she said. “But I was able to get on the phone with Karla and have some conversations with her. And I was very fortunate to find we are very similar in personality.
“Oscar, her husband, is very serious. She’s the complete opposite of him: she’s fun, exciting, full of life, feisty. And it works perfect in their lives because she brings the balance. In the film she [also brings] that balance for Oscar. While he’s the driving force for all the robotics competition, she’s the driving force in his life. She’s the one who said ‘keep going,’ pushing him, and giving him some more life.”
The film did strike a positive cord with several San Fernando High teens.
“I thought it was inspiring, moving,” said Michelle Sandoval, 15. “I’d seen commercials of the movie…I want to see it again. My sister wants to see it.”
Tatiana Gutierrez, 15, also praised it.
“I thought it was awesome. It was about Hispanics and I’m Hispanic. I thought it was really inspirational. I didn’t know the story, but I will tell my friends to see it,” she said.
Mark Magana, 14, was a little less enthusiastic.
“I thought the movie was all right; I’d give it 3 1/2 stars,” he said. “It seemed like the movie was to draw attention for Mexicans…It’s good for 12- and 13-year-olds.”