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Freakonomics 

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You may not be surprised to learn that sports contests are sometimes fixed. For money even! Such revelations make the documentary Freakonomics underwhelming at times. But the segment focusing on the Japanese sport of sumo wrestling is still interesting for a couple of reasons: First, the simple and obvious way numbers tell the story, and second, the social reasons fans don't see the corruption, even as some of them bet and lose money on fixed bouts. Producer Chad Troutwine worked with several documentary filmmakers (Morgan Spurlock, Eugene Jarecki) to illustrate the work of New York Times reporter Stephen Dubner and University of Chicago economist Steven Levitt, co-authors of the 4 million-copy-selling 2005 book Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything.

  As an economist, Levitt believes the key to understanding any human behavior is figuring out the incentives at work. As Freakonomists, the two have become famous for debunking popular ideas and controversial for suggesting alternative explanations. Perhaps the most provocative position they have taken is that Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision legalizing access to abortion, was significantly responsible for the decline in crime beginning in the early 1990s, and their argument is covered in this film. They also look at the efficacy of paying students to get better grades and whether a toddler can outsmart an incentive system designed by Levitt.

  Alex Gibney, known for Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, an exhaustive look at accounting fraud, delivers the overwrought segment about sumo, but visually, it's the best segment in the film. Its focus on the Japanese mystique of purity and the incorporation of Shinto religious customs shows how people are deceived or deceive themselves — cheating themselves out of their own interest.

  It's ironic that the film quickly glosses over several of Levitt and Dubner's case studies, which are based on thorough analysis of data. You will have to consult the book for the details. But this may be the most entertaining explication of economic principles you'll see on film. Not all human decisions can be reduced to dollar amounts and perceived values, but in the end, the numbers say a lot, and Levitt is very good with numbers. Tickets $7 general admission, $6 students/seniors, $5 Zeitgeist members. — Will Coviello

Thru. Oct. 28

Freakonomics: The Movie

9:30 p.m. Fri. and Sun.-Thu.; 1 p.m. Sat.

Zeitgeist Multi-Disciplinary Arts Center, 1618 Oretha Castle Haley Blvd., 827-5858; www.zeitgeistinc.net

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