The movie is based on a "Wired" Magazine's article: a team of four students from Carl Hayden High School in Phoenix, Arizona put their underwater ROV (remote operated vehicle) into a competition ... and beat MIT. So I knew the outcome going in, and now so do you (sorry).
The movie starts with an introduction to the various students, and the hiring of a substitute teacher (George Lopez) who has a Ph.D. in engineering and a bad job record. While this is based on a true story, the writing formula echoes every other underdog team put on film - I particularly noticed connections to two other "based on a true story" movies, "McFarland, USA" (I saw it recently and the group of kids is similar given that they're poor and Hispanic - although that one is a sports film) and "October Sky" (poor mining town in Virginia, kids build rockets ... and one of them ended up at NASA). "The formula" is "the formula" because it works: team created against the odds, someone is reluctant, oddball characters, major set-back, triumph. This one is charming and competently acted, but what made it for me was the engineering aspects. Places like MIT get into this feedback loop of high tech and big money, and end up aiming only at refinement, not big changes. Teams like Carl Hayden have no money, and in trying to do things with "spare parts" end up inventing new, and often better ways of doing things. So ultimately formulaic, but fun.