Friday, April 28, 2006

Akeelah and the Bee

Akeelah and the Bee
Written and directed by Doug Atchison
Lions Gate

It's really, really hard to screw up a movie like Akeelah and the Bee. It's got an already built-in dramatic draw--young people taking part in competition. After the success of the documentary Spellbound, it was only natural that a polished Hollywood film would arise soon after.

Much like 1993's Searching for Bobby Fischer, the rules for this kind of movie are simple. Find a lead character who has the raw ability to be a champion, and somehow make them the underdog as the movie goes on. Introduce those everyday pressures of being a kid--trouble at home, school work, issues with friends, etc. Have a mentor who has his or her own troubles, usually someone who has been in this sort of competition before and didn't make it for one reason or another. Oh yeah, introduce a hateful rival to give even more incentive for winning. All of those elements are present here.

Akeelah (Keke Palmer) is your typical 11-year-old, only she can spell like crazy! She lives with her mother (Angela Bassett), her soon-to-be gangbanging brother and her sister who has a kid. Her other brother has gone to the military, and her father died when she was really young. Akeelah's principal Mr. Welch (Curtis Armstrong) asks her to be a part of the school spelling bee in the hopes that she can go far and get Crenshaw Middle School some money and publicity. She easily wins, and after some resistance is eventually taken under wing by Dr. Larabee (Laurence Fishburne) a man with a few personal issues who becomes father figure to young Akeelah. Akeelah befriends another hopeful, Javier (J.R. Villarreal) and they advance further and further together--with main competition and rival Dylan Chiu (Sean Michael) glowering at them at every turn.

This is solid, very good, so forth. You can't really go wrong. I had an issue with a dramatic character change involving Dylan late in the movie, but it wasn't that big of a deal. It would be unfair to say, "The negative is that it didn't blow me away." That's the big difference between this and Fischer, is that I came out of that movie affected in some way. So, anyone looking for some decent drama this weekend can check this out.


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