PG-13 (mild profanity, sexuality); 112 min.
The second installment of the "Atlas Shrugged" trilogy picks up, of course, where the first one ended. Yet Part II is more of a restart than a continuation, with a new director and an all-new cast. The thing that remains, alas, is the hallowed text: Ayn Rand's bloated 1957 novel about a future in which the really worthwhile people withdraw from a world threatened by "the looters."
The movie opens in Star Wars mode, as one jet chases another. At the controls of the pursuing starfighter is our heroine, Dagny Taggart (Samantha Mathis), a feisty executive at a nationwide (but privately owned) railroad. She's hellbent on learning why clever people are vanishing, apparently at the behest of someone named John Galt.
This scene turns out to be a teaser of the movie's end; the rest of the story is a long flashback. The jet sequence introduces director John Putch's strategy for making Part II brisker than its predecessor: motion.
The faster pace, livelier cast and improved production values make Part II less of a slog than the first movie. But there's only so much the filmmakers can do with the novel's antiquated story and didactic dialogue. Many of the scenes devolve into lectures on the greatness of, well, being great.
Set in the near future, the movie attempts to look modern with smartphones, tablet computers and large flat-screen displays. Yet the writers can't escape that Rand's scenario turns on steel and railroads, industries that haven't driven the American economy for decades. It doesn't help that nobody associated with the movie seems to know the first thing about contemporary rail travel. In one hilarious sequence, a high-speed train breaks down, and an ingenious employee gets it moving again by attaching an ancient steam engine. They might as well have sent in a brace of oxen.
-- Mark Jenkins,
Special to The Washington Post