Family"friendly movies often get a bum rap, and deservedly so, for being exercises in blandness. Consequently, an exceptional family flick like "Akeelah and the Bee" is cause for real celebration.
Keke Palmer portrays Akeelah, an 11"year"old girl growing up in the hardscrabble environs of South Central Los Angeles. Burdened with being smart and witty, she is pushed by the principal of her beleaguered school to enter its spelling bee. And so begins a journey to self"actualization, with the girl taken under the wing of a stern spelling coach, played by the magisterial Laurence Fishburne.
If a spelling bee doesn't sound like the stuff of great drama, think again. Writer"director Doug Atchison gets so much right in subverting audience expectations, his triumphs help forgive the occasional stumble into clich