Like the book that inspired it, the 2010 movie Freakonomics, now available on DVD, is an intermittently entertaining hodgepodge unified by no theme except the interests of University of Chicago economist Steven Levitt and journalist Stephen Dubner.
“The closest thing to a worldview in Freakonomics,” Levitt suggests in the film, “is that incentives matter.” Well, they do in Alex Gibney’s compelling segment on cheating in sumo wrestling and in Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady’s treatment of an experiment aimed at bribing high school students to get better grades. Incentives are far less obvious in Morgan Spurlock’s amusing look at the meaning and impact of people’s given names and Eugene Jarecki’s bizarrely animated explication of Levitt’s theory that abortion accounts for much of the recent decline in crime.
Dubner brags that “we give people permission to challenge conventional wisdom.” They certainly challenge the conventional wisdom that a movie (or a book) should be coherent. —Jacob Sullum