It all warms the cockles of one's heart (insert Woody Allen griping "Just what I need -- warm cockles" here) -- but in a drama about an academic tournament turning life around for an inner-city girl, should the spelling bee challenges be more difficult than her familial and socioeconomic obstacles? Writer-director Doug Atchison dishes out tough love with words like ratiocinate, synecdoche, and one that "begins with an x" and only gets worse from there, but he pulls his punches when it comes to the more emotionally resonant issues faced by Akeelah and those closest to her.
Still, the film appealingly if formulaically shows that putting in your all, supporting your friends, losing graciously and winning even more graciously aren't just good sportsmanship, but character- and destiny-defining traits. And considering the other lessons audiences have been learning lately -- that sooner or later, you will probably be ensnared in a sadist's torture trap, and that someone, somewhere, thought "Basic Instinct 2" was a good idea -- any criticisms of this inspirational tale are as blunted as its harsher realities. Starring Keke Palmer, Laurence Fishburne, Angela Bassett, Curtis Armstrong, J.R. Villarreal and Sean Michael Afable. Directed and written by Doug Atchison. Produced by Nancy Hult Ganis, Sid Ganis, Laurence Fishburne, Michael Romersa and Danny Llewelyn. A Lionsgate release. Drama. Rated PG for some language. Running time: 112 min