Akeelah And The Bee

on April 28, 2006 by Christine James
Eleven-year-old vocabulary prodigy Akeelah Anderson (Keke Palmer) at first shrugs off her uncanny ability to memorize, comprehend and, most impressively, spell some of the most daunting polysyllabics to take up space in the OED. She doesn't see how being ridiculed as a "brainiac" is going to do anything but make her already troubled urban existence that much worse. Fortunately, she has an encouraging best friend who enthuses that "if I could spell like you, I could be a flight attendant" (however that connects), and a stuffy but caring language coach (Lawrence Fishburne) who "will brook no nonsense," but will do everything in his power to help Akeelah reach her full potential. The neighbors also get caught up in the excitement of one of their own making a name for herself, and even the local thug quickly gets the hang of flashcard tutorials.

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

Tags: Keke Palmer, Laurence Fishburne, Angela Bassett, Curtis Armstrong, J.R. Villarreal, Sean Michael Afable, Doug Atchison, Sid Ganis, education, African American, competition

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