The latest in what seems like a recent spate of chess movies, "Endgame" stars Rico Rodriguez (Manny on TV's "Modern Family") as José Perez, a Texas middle-schooler with age-old problems. The otherwise congenial film plays itself to a draw because of flat characters and a script that overdoes the melodrama in the service of checking off a series of genre tropes borrowed from sports movies.
Set in the border town of Brownsville, the film follows José and his classmates as they make an improbable run toward the state chess tournament. José lives with his single mom (Justina Machado) and an older brother (Xavier Gonzalez), a soccer prodigy on the verge of a college scholarship. Feeling neglected by a mother who's doting on his brother, and enduring unfavorable comparisons to the brother at school, José turns to his grandmother (Ivonne Coll), who lives next door and has been teaching him chess since he was 5.
An overly foreshadowed tragedy upends José's world, and a sensitive teacher (Efren Ramirez) establishes a chess team with the hope of competing in a district competition. As the team succeeds, José tries to focus on his matches, but the deck is stacked against him when he battles increasingly smug opponents and calculated plot machinations.
Directed by Carmen Marron from a script she co-wrote with Hector Salinas, "Endgame" takes on heavier topics than its small scale can withstand. It's much more convincing when it sticks to the chess matches, even when they follow a familiar arc.
MPAA rating: None.
Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.