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'What the #$*!' is the Point?

By Michael O'Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 10, 2004; Page WE44

Here's a better question: "What the #$*! Were They Thinking!?" This strange -- and strangely inept -- little film, made by first-time feature directors Mark Vicente, William Arntz and Betty Chasse, aims to, in the movie's own words, take the viewer down a "rabbit hole of mysteriousness." So far so good. And its subject (correction: make that subjects) are interesting enough to provide the raw material for at least a half-dozen separate films. Quantum physics, psychiatry, spirituality, addiction, human emotions, the nature of consciousness, time and matter . . . what's not to like? Plenty, as it turns out.

Part talking-head documentary, part live-action narrative featurette and part goofy computer animation, "What the #$*!" (pronounced "What the Bleep") fails on all three levels. The documentary part, for starters -- featuring a parade of New Age thinkers who, annoyingly, remain unidentified until the film's end -- attempts to tackle way too many ideas. Consequently, the film never gets any deeper into any single theme than one might expect from such nice-sounding but shallow sound bites as the following: "The real trick is not to be in the know but to be in the mystery." Thanks, but I can get that kind of enlightenment from reruns of "Kung Fu."

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The dramatic part, featuring Marlee Matlin as a lovelorn photographer with migraines and a spouse she just caught cheating on her, is stiffly written, badly acted, choppily edited and awkwardly redundant (rather than illustrative) of the themes raised by the movie's pundits. As for the computer-generated cartoons that occasionally crop up -- alternating between acid-trippy representations of the inside of someone's head and flubber-like characters standing in for, say, the human sex drive -- the less said about them, the better. Their intrusive tonal shifts undercut the film's attempt to be taken seriously, and they don't work as comic relief.

On the whole, it feels like a cross between a PBS special hosted by a series of low-rent Deepak Chopras and an infomercial for self-help audio tapes. Bleep, indeed.

WHAT THE #$*! DO WE KNOW!? (Unrated, 108 minutes) --Contains obscenity and sexual content. At Loews Georgetown.

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