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  1. Movies

Review: 'Atlas Shrugged, Part II' upgrades casts, action

I wonder what Ayn Rand would think of the movies drawn from her novel Atlas Shrugged, now completing Part II with a fingers-crossed finale promised in 2013. Not about whether the series is tedious, which it is, and Rand's writing suggests she had a high tolerance for boredom.

Rather, what would Rand say about a sequel that ideally shouldn't exist under the economics she advocated, where only the rich survive and supporting have-nots is for suckers? Atlas Shrugged, Part I was a financial flop by all accounts, so the notion of producers spending twice as much to continue this capitalism passion project for a certifiably small audience feels selfless, and Rand never agreed with that.

Yet while plowing through didactic conversations about government intrusions on economic freedom, soap operatic subtexts and sci-fi suppositions, one thing about Atlas Shrugged, Part II: The Strike becomes clear: That extra money bought a more palatable movie experience than Part I.

The cast has been upgraded — this may be the first sequel not returning a single key actor — and the movie actually moves on occasion, with jet plane chases, a crash landing and a train disaster among the special effects improvements. Something to keep viewers alert between the sluggish polemics, as the big, bad neo-Marxist government in a not-too-distant future loots the creations, talents and bank accounts of even 99 percenters.

Samantha Mathis takes over the role of railroad magnate Dagny Taggart, less glamorous than Taylor Schilling in the first film but effective within the script's stilted confines. Dagny is frazzled by the government's closure of her John Galt Line, named for the mysterious figure convincing the world's greatest minds to vanish, leaving a needy world behind.

Dagny has her hands on a machine that can transform air into energy but regulations are blocking that, too. She's also having an affair with married steel tycoon Henry Rearden (Jason Beghe), a one-man Tea Party refusing to follow the government's orders. Anyone working for the state may as well twirl a black mustache; anyone against them can be fitted for angel wings.

Criticism doesn't matter here since new viewers aren't expected to jump into the dense story now, and anyone coming back for seconds is predisposed to believing this is the most important movie of the year. Sean Hannity or another right-wing mouthpiece told them so. The relevant question now isn't who John Galt is, but how much demand there will be for what the producers supply.

Steve Persall can be reached at persall@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8365.

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