Notes from the back row 

No buzz to Bee; no hope for Poseidon

You know those lazy days when you just don’t feel like doing anything except laying on the couch, eating chips, smoking footers, and watching whatever is on TV? Those days can be great (as long as you don’t string too many of them together in a row) and one of the things that can really add to the fun is watching the American national spelling bee on ESPN (’cause, you know, spelling is a sport). For some reason watching young, home-schooled social retards sweating nervously on a stage trying to spell appoggiatura is pretty good entertainment.

Hollywood has caught on to this (can you say "getting desperate") and they’ve actually paid someone to make an inspirational drama, not a documentary, about an inner-city, underdog black girl who, against all odds, makes it to the Scripps National Spelling Bee finals. Of course if you’ve ordered a coffee from Starbucks lately you already know this, as part of the film’s marketing plan was to plaster its cryptic name, Akeelah and the Bee , on every Starbucks cup. The value of attaching your product’s name to a piece of litter is a time-proven concept. But enough about that, what about the film? Can you spell "mediocre"?

Akeelah lives in the ghetto, her now-dead father taught her to love language and she’s a bright girl who’s talked into giving the national spelling bee a try. Against her mother’s wishes I might add, but don’t worry, she comes around just in time to make for an uplifting ending.

Despite the usual clichés (just once I want to see an Asian kid who’s not the hard-working, driven competitor) and some easy coincidences, Akeelah… is still pretty touching and holds the usual good messages for your children. (Good luck talking them into watching a spelling movie when MI:3 is playing two screens away.) Keke Palmer, the young actress, does an admirable job and keeps the film from delving too deeply into cutesy-kid mode (think Dakota Fanning, then resist urge to vomit).

Really though, rent Spellbound if you want to watch a film about spelling bees. It’s a documentary and a damn good one at that. Comparatively, Akeelah flounders a bit.

Speaking of floundering, in the water this time, Poseidon , the latest big-budget disaster flick, also opens this week at the Village 8. Based on 1973’s cultish-trash classic The Poseidon Adventure , this movie is like Titanic only with a huge wave replacing the iceberg. It’s New Year’s Eve aboard the Poseidon and all the rich white people are celebrating while the ethnics go about their work, serving and cleaning up. Then the wave hits, the boat sinks and a group of survivors must combine their MacGyver skills with some sudden Navy SEAL-like breath holding abilities to escape the boat.

The problem is you don’t ever get a chance to care about any of the characters before the action starts taking them out.

Wolfgang Peterson ( Troy) is usually a killer director but he seems to coast on this one, relying on special effects to create drama. But drama isn’t just things happening, it’s things happening to people. People you have an interest in. This is where Wolfgang falters. I’m pretty big on disaster movies but this one’s too predictable, too rushed, and some people could even say too sneakily racist, to really stay afloat.

If you’re really into disaster flicks United 93 , the 9/11 airplane movie, opens this week at Village 8 too. I’ve already given my stance on that. I think it’s unnecessary and who wants to watch a movie when you already know how it ends?

AT VILLAGE 8 May 12-18: United 93; Akeelah and the Bee; Just My Luck; Poseidon; RV; Stick It; Friends with Money; Mission Impossible 3.

AT RAINBOW THEATRE May 12-18: Curious George , 7 p.m.; Inside Man , 9 p.m.


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