The One Percent

Though studded with fascinating tidbits, Jamie Johnson's follow-up to "Born Rich" never quite coalesces. Docu's ostensible subject -- the widening gap between rich (the fabled 1%) and poor -- fails to gain traction amid Johnson's gadabout approach. Part family saga, part expose of the Florida sugar industry, part examination of the attempt to repeal the inheritance tax, pic drifts from topic to topic with little cohesion.

With:
With: Karl Muth, Milton Friedman, Steve Forbes, Paul Orfalea, Greg Schell, Roy Martin, Ralph Nadar, Chuck Collins, Bill Gates Sr., Robert Reich.

Though studded with fascinating tidbits, Jamie Johnson’s follow-up to “Born Rich” never quite coalesces. Docu’s ostensible subject — the widening gap between rich (the fabled 1%) and poor — fails to gain traction amid Johnson’s gadabout approach. Part family saga, part expose of the Florida sugar industry, part examination of the attempt to repeal the inheritance tax, pic drifts from topic to topic with little cohesion. Docu does pick some interesting brains, and Johnson’s celebrity as turncoat heir to the Johnson & Johnson fortune will doubtless again prove a sufficient draw for limited theatrical release.

Investment banking heir Karl Muth, staring at the bullet hole in his condominium window in the luxury building that replaced a low-income housing project, understands the anger that caused the gun to be fired. He enumerates the three standard stages of driving the poor out of their homes: First, you close the police stations, then you tear out the basketball courts and, finally, you close down the schools. The camera, roving around the adjoining, as-yet-ungentrified neighborhoods, easily spots the stages of planned disintegration.

Johnson’s name grants him access to the top percent in all fields, from corporate giants like Steve Forbes and Kinkos-founder Paul Orfalea, to labor and consumer advocates like Ralph Nadar and Robert Reich, all of whom furnish trenchant if familiar comments on the justice or inequity of enormous personal wealth.

But it is the arrogance of an Italian baron, the malevolent logic of a Nobel prize-winning “trickle-down” economist, the easygoing manner of a corporate great grandson who has given away all his inherited wealth, and the eloquent humanism of a taxi driver in Louisiana that lend color and uniqueness to the docu.

Any number of the jaw-dropping subjects Johnson simply skims over would make an interesting film in itself. But the helmer fails to meaningfully insert the specific story into the overall fabric of his exposition.

Pic’s one constant is Johnson’s vain attempts to interview his own family, who are very vocally opposed to the idea. Unfortunately, such a “Roger and Me” dynamic doesn’t work as well when “Roger” is dad. Pic runs aground on such autobiographical shoals.

Tech credits are unexceptional.

The One Percent

Production: A Wise & Good Film production. Produced by Jamie Johnson, Nick Kurzon. Directed by Jamie Johnson.

Crew: Camera (color, DV), Nick Kurzon; editors, Kurzon, Michael Levine, Matthew Hamachek; music, Robert Miller; sound design, Chen Harpaz. Reviewed at Tribeca Film Festival (NY, NY, competing), May 1, 2001. Running time: 79 MIN.

With: With: Karl Muth, Milton Friedman, Steve Forbes, Paul Orfalea, Greg Schell, Roy Martin, Ralph Nadar, Chuck Collins, Bill Gates Sr., Robert Reich.

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