Based on a true story, Critical Thinking follows John Leguizamo as a Miami high school teacher leading his underserved students to the National Chess Championship

By Alexia Fernandez
August 05, 2020 11:00 AM
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John Leguizamo makes his directorial feature film debut with a story that hits close to his heart.

In a PEOPLE exclusive look at the first trailer for Critical Thinking, Leguizamo stars as Mario Martinez, a Miami high school teacher determined to lead his underserved Black and Latinx students to the National Chess Championship — despite challenges standing in their way.

"Now people, this is going to be very basic for some of you," Martinez tells his skeptical students when introducing them to chess.

He continues, "What you've got is 64 squares, 32 pieces. It doesn't matter how rich or poor you are, what Ivy League school you may go or may not go to because chess is the great equalizer."

John Leguizamo in Critical Thinking
Vertical Entertainment
Vertical Entertainment

When Martinez faces opposition from the school board on sending his students to a competition, he pushes back.

"The board is fine putting $400 on footballs but not with sending kids on a road trip to improve their minds," he says. "You're underestimating me, and more importantly, them."

The film has notes of the Edward James Olmos 1988 film Stand and Deliver, with both films centering on the true stories of high school teachers trying to guide their students toward a better life.

Based on the true story of the Miami Jackson High School chess team, Leguizamo's first film as a director focuses on the talents of students played by Corwin C. Tuggles, Jorge Lendeborg Jr., Will Hochman, Angel Bismark Curiel and Jeffrey Batista.

Critical Thinking is available On Demand on Sept. 4.