Akeelah and the Bee (12A) <!-- none onestar twostar threestar fourstar fivestar -->

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The Independent Culture

"It's Grim Up South Central Los Angeles, Part Two": but this time with a happy, nay, inspirational ending. An 11-year-old girl from the hood, naturally brilliant but bored and disillusioned with school, is cajoled by her teachers into entering school, then district, then regional spelling bees, finally travelling to Washington for the National Spelling Bee (as seen in the documentary Spellbound, off the back of which the producers drummed up cash for this).

Predictably, she faces opposition: from schoolfriends, who think she's a nerd; from her teenage brother, who just wants to look cool and hang out with the local drug-dealer; from her mother, for reasons that are contrived and frankly unconvincing; from her spelling coach, ditto; from her main opponent, the Chinese boy with the competitive dad; and most of all from herself, and her poor self-image.

The film has an important, uplifting message; shame it couldn't be encased in a less faked-up story. It's appropriate that this mildly stimulating mix of syrup and froth was financed by Starbucks. Still, you've got Laurence Fishburne, you've got Angela Bassett and you've got newcomer Keke Palmer as Akeelah.

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