The film tells the story of four undocumented Mexican teenagers who are members of a robotics club at Carl Hayden High School in the barrio of Phoenix; their parents speak no English, and their own horizons are limited.
With the help of dedicated teachers, they build an underwater robot and enter a grueling collegiate competition held at the University of California, Santa Barbara in 2004. The boys figure they might learn something from the older college-age engineers showing off their robots.
The Carl Hayden team— Christian Arcega, Lorenzo Santillan, Luis Aranda, and Oscar Vasquez—get off to a bad start when their robot, nicknamed “Stinky,” takes on water during a practice round on the first day. In one of the film’s many humorous moments, they buy a box of tampons that turn out to have the perfect absorbency for plugging Stinky’s leaks.
After Carl Hayden does the impossible and beats MIT for first place, the film takes a disturbing turn that left me and the rest of the preview audience in tears.
A decade after the competition, MIT professors invited the winners to Cambridge, Massachusetts for a reunion with the MIT team they beat. Not surprisingly, the losers were now winning engineers; one of the MIT graduates had gone on to invent ear buds for Apple.