"Protocols of Zion" is either enigmatically or provocatively titled, depending on your familiarity with its referent, the Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion. Written in the late 19th or early 20th century, the Protocols is a fraudulent document purporting to be written by a group of Jews laying out a plan for Jewish world domination. Although the screed has long since been debunked as a malevolent hoax, "the lie that won't die" has lived on.

Indeed, one of its most recent iterations was the theory, floated just after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, that the Jews who worked in the World Trade Center were told not to go to work that morning. As outrageous as the story was, it gained surprising traction, a fact that inspired filmmaker Marc Levin to examine just how far the Protocols have informed and infiltrated the culture.

Taking his camera into the streets of New York and beyond, Levin begins a series of conversations, many of which would be amusing were they not so appalling. At one point, a group of black demonstrators talks about living in "Jewmerica" and casually remarks that New York's mayors have "always been Jewish." ("What about Giuliani?" Levin asks. "See? Jew-liani!" one responds.) Throughout, Levin invokes his own family history, and the film comes most alive when he and his father share what it has meant to each to be a Jew. The movie goes off the rails only when the filmmaker inadvertently legitimizes the Protocols' loony philosophical heirs by interviewing a New York medical examiner and a widow about the remains of one of 9/11's Jewish victims. In going to such great lengths to correct the racists, bigots and haters of the world, Levin gives them way too much credit.

-- Ann Hornaday