The fastest way out of the ghetto is via a dictionary in Akeelah And The Bee, a fictional spin on 2003 documentary Spellbound built around America's obsession with junior spelling competitions. Akeelah Anderson (Keke Palmer) is a precocious eleven-year-old from South LA whose way with words could spell a bright future. First, though, she must impress Dr Larabee (Laurence Fishburne), a local genius whose tutelage will be vital if she is to make it to the televised finals in Washington DC.
She'll also have to win over her sceptical mother (Angela Bassett), a stern matriarch who preaches the same brand of tough love Fishburne peddled in Boyz N The Hood. (This, incidentally, is the first time the actors have shared the screen since their Oscar-nommed double act in What's Love Got To Do With It.) Luckily, help is at hand from her fellow spelling geeks, an implausibly diverse selection of ethnic boffins with their own reasons for participating in this annual ritual.
"HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH REALITY"
Co-produced by Fishburne and sponsored by Starbucks, Doug Atchison's drama is well made, strongly acted and builds towards a suitably inspirational crescendo. But don't think for a moment it has anything to do with reality. From its ludicrous notion that intelligence is something that appears out of the ether, rather than something that needs to be nurtured from birth via a competent education system, to the comical way Akeelah's success has her gang-member neighbours trading gun crime for spelling tests, it's as much a fantasy as Lord of the Rings.