Flaky film: What a Load of #$*!

Being as stupid as David Letterman pretends to be, I like movies that make me feel intelligent.

Mark Vicente, Betsy Chasse, and William Arntz, the makers of What the #$*! Do We Know? (a.k.a. What the Bleep Do We Know? for those who can't pronounce #$*!) set themselves a real challenge: In 108 minutes we're going to make Steve understand quantum physics.

Well, they overachieved. By the end of the movie, I not only understood, I disbelieved. I felt more intelligent than the 14 so-called experts who paraded across the screen to educate me, each of whom seems to have an agenda.

But that's okay. As the final title says, "Agreement is not necessary. Thinking for one's self is."

The talking heads aren't identified until the end, when they prove to be a combination of scientists and "mystics," most with degrees to flaunt and books to plug.

And quantum physics? Well, it's basically a rationalization of the concept of mind over matter. If, like me, you expect a "science" to be a collection of facts and verifiable theories, you too will dismiss all this as a bunch of new-age hooey.

Maybe I've been watching Penn & Teller: Bulls***! too much, but I'd love to see them take on this topic.

At least Vicente, Chasse, and Arntz (or VCA, since reality is whatever I want it to be, and I want it to be easy to type) keep things reasonably entertaining, with great editing and photography that makes Portland, Oregon look like an appealing alternate universe.

Marlee Matlin stars as Amanda, a still photographer who acts as a lab rat to demonstrate some of the theories the film passes off as fact. A kid who challenges her to one-on-one basketball asks her, "How far down the rabbit hole do you want to go?" She doesn't answer.

Matlin serves her function beautifully, but the choice of a hearing-impaired actress raises one question. There's a lot of talk about how the brain is influenced by what the eyes see and have seen. Would the same be true of information gathered by the other senses, in the case of those who have them? Was this segment tailored for Matlin?

The vision thing is overworked in the telling of a legend that the Native Americans couldn't see Columbus' ships when they arrived because they'd never seen ships before. If you believe that, none of us can see anything because there had to be a first time we saw it, and if it didn't register, we still can't see it.

Reality exists within each of us, the theory goes, but most of us let ourselves be influenced by physical reality, the externals that appear to be around us but are maybe no more real than The Matrix. Illustrations show how thought can change everything from water to Washington, DC crime statistics. (And where's Uri Geller when you need him to bend a spoon?)

What would happen if each of us took full advantage of our power to alter our surroundings with our minds? Either they'd have to build a lot more institutions to house the certifiably delusional, or the filmmakers would have material for a sequel on Chaos Theory.

Amanda takes anxiety pills to alter her reality, which involves catching her cheating husband in the act. She's forced to photograph a wedding, where the movie goes off on a tangent involving cute animated figures representing cells altered by peptides triggered by individual addictions. At the wedding, Amanda meets a potential new romantic interest, but he doesn't appear later in her pantheon of possibilities.

We also learn about subatomic physics with its part-time particles, neural physics which sees literal brainstorms, and how aging is the result of "improper protein production."

Religion is introduced about midway, opening the door for several more personal agendas. There's a reference to self-image, but it's not linked to advertising's use of quantum physics to sell us alternate realities.

In an alternate universe What the #$*! Do We Know? is outgrossing Shrek 2 and The Passion of the Christ this year. If you want to go there, just clap your hands to show you believe in quantum physics. VCA will be waiting for you.