In one sequence in Protocols Of Zion, director Marc Levin (Slam, Whiteboyz) travels to Hollywood, trying to gather prominent Hollywood Jews for a round-table discussion of anti-Semitism and The Passion Of The Christ. Norman Lear puts Levin in contact with Larry David, whom Lear describes as the "hottest Jew in Hollywood." David turns him down but suggests he talk to Rob Reiner, who in turn suggests that he talk to—yes, Norman Lear. In a documentary with a sharper sense of irony or a more satiric sensibility—say, one by Nick Broomfield or Michael Moore—that circular absurdity would serve as a highlight, but in Levin's muddled, painfully earnest doc, it merely dramatizes Levin's inability to get meaningful answers to his provocative questions. At least Protocols Of Zion isn't boring—it gleans some priceless dark comedy from the narrow mindsets, inflexibility, and warped logic of bigots, as when a conservatively dressed white supremacist who seems to model himself after a successful corporate middle manager denies that Hitler was the least bit suicidal, only to be reminded by Levin that the Führer committed suicide. Or when a street-corner blowhard insists that Rudolph "Jew-liani"'s last name betrays his covert religious affiliation.


Levin's film has a noble aim: He wants to explore the enduring popularity of The Protocol Of The Elders Of Zion, a seminal, transparently fictitious anti-Semitic document ostensibly recording the minutes of a meeting of Jews plotting world domination, and its relationship with the conspiracy theory that Jews and/or Israel were somehow responsible for 9/11. That would be an ambitious enough project for any filmmaker, but Levin casts his net even wider, exploring Daniel Pearl's beheading, The Passion Of The Christ, his own family history, and numerous other tangentially related threads.

Intriguingly, Levin doesn't deny that there are powerful forces controlling the world semi-covertly, but in his earnest lefty mindset, they're powerful multinational corporations and tycoons like Rupert Murdoch, not scheming Jews. In scene after scene, Levin's subjects spit anti-Semitic invective, Levin responds indignantly with passionate but not terribly lucid or rigorously reasoned counter-arguments, and both sides walk away with their ideologies intact. Levin aims to spark a dialogue about the nature of anti-Semitism, but his film barely elucidates its root causes. He succeeds in sparking a dialogue, but the agitated emotions and hot air on both sides add disappointingly little to the debate. Sometimes the best of intentions just aren't enough.