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Reviewed on 2010-10-08
Received[2.5]  out of 4 stars
This omnibus documentary on human behavior is based on the best-selling 2005 non-fiction book of the same title by economist Steven D. Levitt and journalist Stephen J. Dubner.

The key topics of parenting, cheating, cause & effect, and incentives are broken up into four 20-minute segments with different reputable, award-winning directors. Levitt and Dubner appear on camera in the intro and transitional portions.

This anthology plays out like “60 Minutes” with ideas that can be used to better understand how things really work in life. It should change your way of thinking and be a useful guide to asking the right questions when trying to make smarter decisions.

Morgan Spurlock (“Super Size Me”) kicks things off with “A Roshanda by Any Other Name.” This light and entertaining piece deals with the impact a child’s first name has on their destiny and lifetime outcome. Spurlock uses person-on-the-street interviews, graphics and re-enactments to illustrate the repercussions of baby naming.

Alex Gibney (“Taxi to the Dark Side” and “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room”) follows with “Pure Corruption.” This second entrée has a drastic tonal shift to a more serious vein in tackling cheating allegations in the ancient sport of Sumo wrestling. The match rigging is compared with the Ponzi schemes of Bernie Madoff where the illusion of purity masks the underlying corruption. A lot of the dialogue is in Japanese with English subtitles.

A smooth presentation helmed by Eugene Jarecki (“Why We Fight” and “The Trials of Henry Kissinger”) and narrated by Melvin Van Peebles is cleverly titled “It’s Not Always a Wonderful Life.” Jimmy Stewart recites his famous line, “I wish I’d never been born.” The argument is made that legalized abortion is the biggest reason for the sharp drop in crime during the 1990s. This unintended consequence of Roe v. Wade establishes a meaningful connection between giving a woman the right to choose and a reduction in criminal behavior. This should stimulate debate and discussion from opposing sides of this hotly contested ethical issue.

The concluding episode, “Can a Ninth Grader Be Bribed to Succeed?,” directed by Rachel Grady and Heidi Ewing (co-directors of “Jesus Camp”), documents a study conducted by economists at the University of Chicago. A financial incentive of $50 a month is offered to ninth-grade students in Chicago Heights who maintain a grade level of C or higher in all their subjects. Caucasian Kevin, a skateboarding class clown, and African-American Urail, a personable goal-oriented achiever, are profiled in this interesting and amusing short. A split screen is utilized along with interviews of the parents.

This 93-minute collection of short films finds an innovative way to pursue trivial data. It makes the often vague and elusive subject of economics interesting. It should encourage more viewers to read the book.

The documentary has a local connection in co-producer Rafi Chaudry, a Johnson County native and a member of the 2000 graduating class of Blue Valley High School. Your chance to explore the hidden side of things while debunking conventional wisdom comes with the exclusive showing for a limited engagement at the Leawood in Overland Park.

Review By:
Keith Cohen "The Movie Guy"


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