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"ATLAS SHRUGGED: PART II"
(2012) (Samantha Mathis, Jason Beghe) (PG-13)

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QUICK TAKE:
Drama: A railroad executive tries to get a discovered motor -- that could power the world -- operational, all while dealing with increasingly stifling socialistic elements imposed by the government on businesses that further threaten to destroy the U.S. economy.
PLOT:
In the near future, the U.S. economy is on the brink of disaster, with high unemployment and gasoline prices of $40 a gallon. As a result, railroads are now the main means of transporting people and goods, all of which is good news for Taggart Transcontinental. That railroad line is run by James Taggart (PATRICK FABIAN), even if its day to day operations and most of the important decisions are made by his sister and Vice President in Charge of Operations, Dagny Taggart (SAMANTHA MATHIS).

Not long ago, she teamed with new metal magnate Henry Rearden (JASON BEGHE) to start a new rail line, even when the Government tried to give him and his product a bad name. A byproduct of that was an affair between them, something known by Henry's wife, Lillian (KIM RHODES), although she won't grant him a divorce so that she can keep her social standing.

Of more concern to the industrialists are the effects of the country's Fair Share law that threaten the core aspects of capitalism and free enterprise, while Dagny's childhood friend and mine operator Francisco d'Anconia (ESAI MORALES) tries to warn everyone about the evils of money. It seems he's not alone, as a mysterious figure or movement known as John Galt is seemingly responsible for the titans of industry and the country's most brilliant minds to simply give up and vanish.

Dagny hopes that won't happen to scientist Quentin Daniels (DIEDRICH BADER) who's trying to figure out how to make a high-tech motor -- that she earlier discovered -- operational with the belief that it could supply the world with endless free power and thus solve the country's economic woes. But with bureaucrat Wesley Mouch (PAUL McCRANE) threatening to exert even more socialistic government control over how businesses operate, Dagny and Henry find themselves alone in trying to fight the system.

OUR TAKE: 3.5 out of 10
Our reviewing policy for films that aren't shown in advance to critics is that we'll only provide a few paragraphs about the film's artistic merits

The most interesting thing that can be said about "Atlas Shrugged: Part II" has nothing to do with the acting, writing, directing or any other aspect of what ended up on the screen. Nor does it pertain to Ayn Rand's now 55-year-old source novel beating the movie "Wall Street" to the punch of its "greed is good" philosophy. No, the surprising thing is that "Part II" was ever made along with the way it was produced. After all, the original 2011 film grossed a little more than $4 million (meaning less than half a million tickets were sold and thus the pic only made back a quarter of its reported budget). Undeterred, the producers then axed the ENTIRE cast along with the filmmakers for the second installment of their trilogy.

While those new faces might be a little disconcerting for the few who watched the original, the sequel picks up where that one left off, but doesn't provide much back-story for the uninitiated. And like most middle entries of any trilogy, it sort of feels like extended filler between the intro and conclusion. It doesn't help that Samantha Mathis' portrayal of the determined protagonist feels limp and uninspired (she might be the most boring and inert cinematic hero I've seen in years), or that events (such as a big train collision sequence) end up overshadowing the main plot thrust that's split -- not all that successfully -- between the visualized warnings of government socialism and the heroine's goal to get a never-ending power producing motor up and running.

Although the film looks and feels more polished than its predecessor (but obviously is still of a lower budget than most Hollywood pics) and has more lively moments, the plot never really feels like it's going anywhere. And despite being set in the future, it seems somewhat trapped in the past (sticking with Rand's settings of her time), what with the focus on industries of old (railroads, metal manufacturing, etc.). As a result, we don't really care what happens (beyond the meaning of the symbolism for those who view our country headed in a similar direction), and the mystery of "Who is John Galt?" can only carry one's interest so far.

Some may complain about the film's message, but that didn't bother me. I just hoped I would have been more caught up in the proceedings regardless of the film or audience's stances on the issues at hand. I wasn't and thus give "Atlas Shrugged: Part II" my own uninvolved raising of the shoulders. This one rates as a 3.5 out of 10.




Reviewed October 12, 2012 / Posted October 12, 2012


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