FREAKONOMICS A quartet of uneven TV pilots posing as a full-length documentary, Seth Gordon's anthology Freakonomics pulls case studies from Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt's best-selling book of pop-math and hands them over to famous doc filmmakers to make their own. Gordon (King of Kong) knits together the resulting shorts with interludes that attempt to build a coherent thought narrative out of clever animation and talking-head interviews with the authors. Though the overarching follow-through line never materializes, one of the pleasures of Freakonomics is seeing how very different filmmakers — Morgan Spurlock (Super Size Me), Alex Gibney (Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room), Eugene Jarecki (Why We Fight), and the team of Rachel Grady and Heidi Ewing (Jesus Camp) — approach basically identical material. "Pure Corruption," Gibney's meditation on sumo wrestling and corporate malfeasance, is the most artful and thoughtful of the four segments; Jarecki's is the weakest. The final section, Grady and Ewing's "Can You Bribe a Ninth Grader to Succeed?" drops us in the middle of a study examining how kids respond to being offered $50 a month for decent grades. The simple question of whether the two profiled underachievers will collect their money gives Freakonomics a welcome jolt of narrative energy. And while the study isn't exactly a success, watching these economists sort of fail tells viewers more about real research — the messy and difficult process by which thinkers in all disciplines make sense of the world — than anything else here. You can get ur Freakon; I'll take Econ. (Dan Kois) (Citywide)
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