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Published August 18th, 2006 | by Bruce Munro

Akeelah and the Bee Review

Classification: 12a Director: Doug Atchison Rating: 2.5/5

The most notable thing about Akeelah and the Bee is that it represents Starbucks first foray into the world of movies. As one of the producers of the film, the logo of the Seattle coffee monster flashes onto the screen before the first frame, which made even someone of my apathetic nature sigh. But this isn’t the place for an anti-globalization rant, so I’ll move on.

The film is about an 11-year-old African-American girl from a rough part of Los Angeles, Akeelah, and her friendship with a wise old bumblebee called Buzzy. This is, unfortunately, not true. Rather it’s about Akeelah’s struggle to make it to the top in the cutthroat world of spelling bees. Assisted by a former university professor Dr Larabee (Laurence Fishburne) she scrapes her way into the state and then national finals.

There, among the best of the best, she makes it to the final two but deliberately misspells a word she knows out of sympathy for the other finalist, Dylan, an obnoxious boy saddled with a pushy father. As much as Dylan wants to win, he doesn’t want the trophy handed over on a plate, and so he also misspells the word. The two then successfully spell all the remaining championship words, which is unheard of in the history of spelling bees, resulting in them both winning.

It’s easy to see why Starbucks chose to become involved with this film; like their coffee shops, Akeelah and the Bee is incredibly predictable but for what it is, it’s not a terrible product. Sure, it’s bland. Akeelah’s neighbourhood is meant to be rough but doesn’t come across this way; although some buildings look slightly run down, the place looks colourful and vibrant (like the Miller beer ad where the guy leaves a party and cycles downhill to buy some beer before continuing downhill to another party).

And the tough characters aren’t tough; I’ve seen more menacing school bullies in Grange Hill and the bad egg Akeelah’s brother is in danger of falling in with, not only has a street name (Derrick-T) that sounds like it was made up by a vicar’s wife, actually turns out to be immensely proud of a poem he wrote when he was in fifth grade. When mocked for this he replies, “What do you think rap is?” In retrospect, this line probably explains why I had an urge to buy a copy of Dangerous Minds on my way home.

These factors, combined with all the main protagonists being drawn from different ethnic minority groups, makes Akeelah and the Bee the cinematic equivalent of a United Colours of Benetton ad. If you want to see a film that truly explores the lives of a cross section of Americans AND kids competing against each other at a spelling bee, rent or buy the documentary Spellbound.

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