Big question: Eleven-year-old Akeelah (Keke Palmer) embraces her spelling skills and pursues the national bee with the help of Dr. Joshua Larabee (Laurence Fishburne). After "Spellbound" and "Bee Season," shouldn't Hollywood have learned the ABCs of originality--that this subject has Already Been Covered?
Catch it: With a sweet sense of humor and a joyful performance from Palmer, "Akeelah and the Bee" makes spelling look fun and being smart seem cool. Akeelah is an accessible heroine because she's much more than just a good speller: She's well adjusted enough to want to hang with her friends and family, and too smart not to use the brains she's got.
Skip it if: You wouldn't consider hosting a birthday celebration that features a multi-person Scrabble competition.
Bottom line: Things get a little warm and fuzzy as spelling unites family and community, but "Akeelah and the Bee" is a feel-good movie that will bring you back to the days when you were excited about learning. It demonstrates to anyone afraid to be labeled as a geek that knowledge is power.
Bonus: If you and your friends hold an impromptu spelling bee, Akeelah's friend Javier (J.R. Villarreal), offers a clever way of stalling the judges before spelling his word: "Can you use it in a song?"
'Akeelah and the Bee'
Directed and written by Doug Atchison; cinematography by M. David Mullen; edited by Glenn Farr; production design by Warren Alan Young; music by Aaron Zigman; produced by Nancy Hult Ganis, Sid Ganis, Laurence Fishburne, Michael Romersa and Danny Llewelyn. A Lionsgate Films release; opens Friday. Running time: 1:52. MPAA rating: PG (for some language).
Dr. Larabee - Laurence Fishburne
Tanya - Angela Bassett
Akeelah - Keke Palmer
Mr. Welch - Curtis Armstrong
Javier - JR VillarrealCopyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times