'Akeelah and the Bee'


"Akeelah and the Bee" is a phenom movie. You know, some young kid, discovered to have a wild talent, is shaped into a formidable contender by a tough but understanding mentor, building to a climactic competition with life-changing stakes.

We know this story. It's imprinted in our DNA. It's "Rocky," it's "The Karate Kid," it's "The Rookie," it's every single phenom story that's ever been told. Hell, it predates the coining of the word "phenom".

And, as it happens, it's "Akeelah and the Bee."

"Akeelah and the Bee" is what you'd call a shameless button-pusher, telling the fictional story of a young black girl (Keke Palmer) in South Central Los Angeles with a whole bunch of socioeconomic strikes against her, not the least of which is a mother (Angela Bassett) who works too hard to have time to look after her daughter's emotional and intellectual growth.

But Akeelah's principal (Curtis Armstrong) notices her remarkable aptitude for spelling, and puts her together with his friend Josh (Laurence Fishburne), who comes to believe she might be able to compete at the national level.

The actors aren't breaking any new ground: Fishburne is just remixing his roles from "Searching for Bobby Fischer" and "The Matrix," and Bassett is channeling that short-tempered vibe we can feel in half of her performances. But their shared history from "What's Love Got to Do with It" gives their few scenes together an electric crackle, and Palmer is quite simply remarkable as the nervous, uncertain Akeelah.

Perhaps more importantly, director Doug Atchison's script never quite surrenders to formula: It puts unexpected spins on the relationships between Akeelah and her fellow spellers, and refuses to render any of its characters as a caricature. It's still a formula picture, but the execution has a certain flourish. And hey, it's not "Bee Season."

LionsGate's enhanced-widescreen DVD -- distributed in Canada by Maple Pictures -- is a modest special edition, with a 22-minute featurette celebrating the production's noble aspirations, and two smaller ones ("Two Peas in a Pod" and "Inside the Mind of Akeelah") that focus on the impressive rapport between star Palmer and writer-director Atchison.

More basic extras -- seven very short deleted scenes, a similarly brief gag reel and a music video for Palmer's "All My Girlz" -- round out the package.

STUDIO: LionsGate Home Entertainment (US), Maple Pictures (Canada)
RELEASE DATE: August 29, 2006
PRICE: $28.98
TIME: 112 minutes
DVD EXTRAS: English and Spanish subtitles; deleted scenes; productionfeaturettes; gag reel; music video.
INTERNET SITE: www.akeelahandthebee.com

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