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Overall Rating

Awesome: 17.39%
Worth A Look: 33.33%
Pretty Bad: 1.45%
Total Crap: 1.45%

8 reviews, 21 user ratings

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Akeelah and the Bee
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by Jason Whyte

3 stars

Deep down, I really wanted to like “Akeelah and the Bee”. There is so much about the film that is worthy of recommendation, from the positive theme of kids learning to young Keke Palmer’s performance as a troubled girl who finds the love of spelling bees and establishes a passion for learning. As the film progressed I felt a great amount of joy coming over me, that finally there was a feature film that could make a great double bill with the wonderful 2003 documentary “Spellbound” which profiled several different children as they all prepared for the Scripps National Spelling Bee.

And yet, if one looks at the film closer, it’s sadly noticeable that the film is simply going through the motions of providing nearly every cliché on the kids-learning process that it seems that director Doug Atchinson and his filmmakers want you to believe that it really seems so darn easy to win this game.

Akeelah (Keke Palmer) goes to a run-down school in Los Angeles, one that she hates so much that she usually doesn’t even show up to class. She is a good student, but reluctant about learning after her father died years ago. When Akeelah gets an “A+” on her spelling test, it attracts the attention of the school’s principal (played by Curtis Armstrong; has it been THAT long since his “Booger” and “Better off Dead” days?), who insists that Akeelah get involved with spelling bee competitions and is eventually offered assistance by Dr. Larabee (Laurence Fishburne), who sees a potential winner in Akeelah when she wins a spelling competition in her school.

The scenes with Akeelah and Dr. Larabee are the emotional core of the film, where we see a battle of wits between a hardened professor (who, naturally, is harbouring a Big Secret) and his wise pupil as they go through countless books, lists of words over and over again and practice techniques to overcome the pressures of the real competitions. The scenes are so well done that it is somewhat taxing on the other side of the story, where Akeelah’s working-class mother Tanya (Angela Bassett) doesn’t want Akeelah in the competitions because her grades are low.

I think what annoyed me the most about “Akeelah & the Bee” is that Akeelah gets to the top far too easily. There are contestants that have done the spelling bee for years, have lost and tried again and established success. But since this is a Hollywood film, you need to have Akeelah win the regional bee on a fluke (she spells a word incorrectly, but gets in because a kid spells a word correctly with help from her mom in the audience), get to the Nationals and blindside through every hurdle, only to face off against her nemesis, Dylan (Sean Michael) who is given militant training by his father (the great Tzi Ma). Also, there are secrets of Dr. Larabee that he has to come to the surface, and Akeelah also has to get acceptance from her mother.

It all smacks of being so simple. I remember the great film “Rudy” (1993) that featured Sean Astin as a mine-worker who finally decides to get off his ass and follow his dream of football, despite his lack of school-smarts, his small size and his attitude. What was great (as well as sad) about the film was the fact that Rudy was rejected by an Ivy league school, struggled, lost, tried again, still lost and tried again, and with enough passion he finally realized his dream. If that film was made by Akeelah’s director Doug Hutchinson, Rudy would have been accepted to the Ivy league school right away, get on the football team in a week and would most likely show some small struggle at that point as he wins the big game. Entertaining, perhaps, but would it really happen?

At the core of the film is young Keke Palmer, who is simply wonderful as Akeelah. The entire film rests on her shoulders and it would be a worse film without her. It is great to see her progress as a girl who discovers a passion for learning and changes her past ways for a positive future. Laurence Fishburne and Angela Bassett, together again, are also solid as teacher and parent, respectively. I also liked some of the kids who become Akeelah’s friend throughout the whole spelling bee process.

“Akeelah & the Bee” leaves me somewhere directly in the middle. It is overwrought with unoriginal moments and makes things look so simplistic, yet there are strengths with the performances and characters that nearly want to make me tell you to go out and see it. If my praise of “Rudy” is enough to make you want to check that film out on DVD, also give the film “Spellbound” a try if you haven’t seen it yet. It gives a wholly realistic (and thrilling) look at the process that I really wanted “Akeelah” to follow as well.

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originally posted: 04/29/06 02:56:53
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Philadelphia Film Festival For more in the 2006 Philadelphia Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Tribeca Film Festival For more in the 2006 Tribeca Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

2/02/11 Mary It is so awesome..everybody should watch this... 5 stars
10/08/07 lily wow i loved it i seriosly did it was great well done 5 stars
9/14/07 Tracy Great movie, great actors 5 stars
8/16/07 chosha I'm with Staci. You missed the point, and some excellent themes, well-rendered. 5 stars
4/29/07 David Pollastrini pretty dull 3 stars
4/14/07 Hugh jass It was total crap 1 stars
11/06/06 anitamich Is there a more perfect movie than this one? I don't think so! 5 stars
10/21/06 Tanya Grays wonderful, for all ages 5 stars
10/16/06 Jim Morpheus gives Akeelah the red pill and she wakes up in Washington DC 4 stars
9/25/06 Lisa Craven Loved seeing Fisbourne and Bassett together again. Keke is a rising star, too. 4 stars
6/12/06 Heather Laurence Fishburne is amazing, great movie 5 stars
6/10/06 Ally Wow! I've never been more proud to be a Spelling Bee champion in my life! Empowering! 5 stars
5/24/06 Cindy Formula plot but with a nice twist at the end. Good for an underdog takes all pix. 3 stars
5/19/06 Staci Goss doesn't get it. This movie is NEEDED for the Black community. My girls and I loved it! 5 stars
5/16/06 Julie J LOVED IT!! What a feel good movie 5 stars
5/14/06 K. Pearlman Sorry , this one does not tappeal -reality is closer than it appears.... 2 stars
5/13/06 millersxing Inspires folks to overcome social pressures and dream big. 4 stars
5/08/06 Victoria Akeelah and the Bee was great and i think that everyone should see it. 5 stars
5/07/06 Mase If you can't stomach watching a far supieror documentary "spellbound", this will do. 4 stars
4/23/06 D T Hutchinson Awesome, awesome, film. This is the best feel good movies thus far this year. 5 stars
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  28-Apr-2006 (PG)
  DVD: 29-Aug-2006



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