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Who is John Galt? Who Gives a Crap?: Atlas Shrugged's tea party flops hard

Members of the Ayn Rand cult have waited 54 years for a movie version of her magnum opus, Atlas Shrugged. They finally have one that's true to the letter and spirit of the book. And that's the problem.

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Near the end of this movie, to relieve the tedium, I started thinking about what could have been done to save it. And I came up with the answer: Ragnar the Pirate.

The name Ragnar the Pirate appears in a newspaper headline at the beginning of the movie and he's mentioned in passing later on, but that's all. The screenwriters could have done a lot more with Ragnar the Pirate.

For instance: The two principal characters, railroad heiress Dagny Taggart and steel tycoon Henry Rearden, are in Rearden's office having one of their intimate, sexy chats about steel smelting when Ragnar the Pirate (Johnny Depp) swishes into the room, skewers Rearden with his cutlass, picks Dagny up in his arms and carries her off to his pirate stronghold. That would wake up the audience.

Unfortunately, Ragnar the Pirate never showed up, and I was left to endure the longest two hours I've ever experienced outside of a dentist's chair.

Members of the Ayn Rand cult have waited 54 years for a movie version of her magnum opus, Atlas Shrugged. They finally have one that's true to the letter and spirit of the book. And that's the problem.

Atlas Shrugged is a hefty doorstop of a novel - over 1,000 pages - that imagines a future where America has gone to hell because of altruism run amok. Unions and big government collude to stifle innovation and crush excellence. Corporations are groaning under the tyranny of bureaucrats who wield powers greater than any Soviet commissar ever had.

In other words, it's America circa 2011, Tea Party version.

In disgust, a small, brave band of CEOs, hedge fund managers and other über-capitalists finally chuck it all, escape to a libertarian paradise established by the mysterious John Galt and leave the "moochers" and "looters" (i.e., everybody else) to fend for their incompetent selves.

Atlas Shrugged - Part I covers the first phase of this fairy tale. Rand's novel takes place in some unspecified future period, but the creators of the movie, for reasons unknown, decided to set it in the year 2016. (Maybe the Randroids want us to think this is what the world will be like after eight years of Obama?) The plot revolves around the struggle of Taggart (Taylor Schilling) and Rearden (Grant Bowler) to overcome the bureaucrats, unions and crooked politicians and save Taggart's railroad.

Watching the movie, like reading the novel, requires considerable suspension of disbelief. We're expected, for example, to accept the idea that railroads - yes, railroads - are the hot new thing in transportation. And that Hank Rearden has created a miraculous metal ("Rearden Metal") that's lighter and stronger than steel, but the bureaucrats, politicians and scientists are conspiring to keep it off the market because it's too good. And that there are vast untapped oil reserves under Colorado.

OK, whatever. But that's not the worst of it. Rand was the queen of cardboard characters, wooden dialogue and turgid plots, and Atlas Shrugged - Part I faithfully follows her example.

Much of the "action" consists of long conversations about such thrilling topics as metallurgy and railroad management. The love affair between Dagny and Hank has all the erotic sizzle of a corporate merger. They get more aroused talking about a revolutionary new motor than they do in bed.

The cast of B-list and C-list actors does its best to breathe some life into this corpse, but not even Laurence Olivier could do anything with lines like these:

"I studied engineering in college. When I see things, I see them."

"It's us who move the world." (Bad grammar as well as bad dialogue.)

"Where is the man that I used to love?" (Yes, Dagny Taggart really says that.)

"This is madness!" (Yes, she really says that too.)

Obligatory list of things I liked about this movie:

1. Taylor Schilling is nice to look at.

2. The scene in which Dagny's train goes zooming across the Colorado countryside at 250 miles an hour is pretty cool.

Well, maybe we'll see Ragnar the Pirate in Part II, if there is one. Which, considering what a record-smashing floppapalooza Part I is, seems blessedly unlikely.

Atlas Shrugged - Part 1

★✩✩✩✩

Starring Taylor Schilling, Grant Bowler

Directed by Paul Johansson

Rated PG-13

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