September 29, 2010 at 04:00 AM EDT


Current Status
In Season
Steven D. Levitt, Stephen J. Dubner
William Morrow
We gave it a C+

Freakonomics, based on the megaseller by Stephen J. Dubner and Steven D. Levitt, is a linked series of documentary vignettes, each of which purports to illustrate some vital yet whimsically counterintuitive principle about how life really works. It’s applied economics as fortune-cookie wisdom. The best segment is one directed by Alex Gibney that explores the rigged aspects of sumo wrestling, an ”honorable” sport that’s actually run the way the Mob once ran boxing. It’s a mini-essay

Yet whenever Dubner and Levitt pop up ? to explain how catchy and wondrous their theories are, it’s with a touch of nerd smugness, since most of what they say sounds not so much brain-tickling as obvious. The final segment, in which delinquent kids are bribed to study to see if it will raise their grades, is morally myopic: Even if the bribes did work, what would that teach a kid? As a movie, Freakonomics is like Jujubes for the brain — it starts to get cloying halfway through the box. C+

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