Freakonomics is an anthology of shorts -- mini-documentaries, to be exact, each directed by a different filmmaker -- and, as such, is susceptible to the hit-and-miss syndrome of such endeavors. Taken as a whole, though, it's quite entertaining -- a lighthearted plea to the audience to try to think outside the box when it comes to matters of causality. In other words, don't look for the usual suspects when trying to figure out why a certain trend is behaving the way it does. For instance, to kick things off, Morgan Spurlock humorously investigates the possibility that a person's name could be a key factor in whether or not that person grows up to become successful in life.
As stated, certain segments work better than others -- the most fascinating might be Eugene Jarecki's piece about a possible and controversial factor responsible for the rise and fall of crime; while, surprisingly, Alex Gibney's section about detecting trends of corruption in something as plain-faced as sumo wrestling feels the most dry. The last segment, by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, takes a little too long to reach a predictable conclusion in their experiment involving bribing ninth graders to do better in their classes. It does, however, make you think about what are really the sources of motivation for young people.
Similarly, the rest of the doc (with intro and transitional bits directed by Seth Gordon and featuring Freakonomics source book authors Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner) encourages the viewer to look beyond easy reasons whenever one might ponder, "I wonder why..." In a world bound by the tyranny of local, tradition-bound perspectives, this is not a bad thing.
(Released by Magnolia Pictures and rated "PG-13" by MPAA.)
Review also posted at www.windowtothemovies.com.