"Who is John Galt?" has become the question on all of America's lips in Atlas Shrugged: Part II. But a better question might be "Where is John Galt?" Or "When is John Galt going to show up?" Because whatever its politics, Shrugged shrugs its way through the middle installment in this right-wing soap opera with zero sense of urgency.
The adaptation of Ayn Rand's romance novel for the downtrodden rich has been recast, using former "name" actors in the leading roles. D.B. Sweeney is the mythical Galt, the guy luring America's "I built this" crowd into some sort of Utopia for the 1 percent.
But he doesn't show up until the curtain. Not that this arrival animates this humorless rant.
Like a soap opera, it's a tale set in the posh boardrooms, swank hotels, first-class passenger rail cars and limos of the super rich.
And just as in a soap opera, they're a bunch of put-upon crybabies, railing about "government creeps" holding them back, and "moochers" and parasites who aren't working in a time of global depression.
Samantha Mathis is Dagny Taggart this time, another heiress who acts as if she "built" the railroad that was her inheritance. She fumes and fools around with Henry Rearden (Jason Beghe), the OSHA-and-EPA-ignoring steel magnate who is hell-bent on keeping his "miracle metal" out of the hands of the government.
Esai Morales is the South American scion of a copper empire who has known his rich compatriot Dagny since they were kids. As with the real jet set, these are people without borders whose only religion is wealth.
And being righteous capitalists, they'd all rather destroy their businesses than face government regulation. The uber-rich are disappearing — dropping out of sight.
The story barely advances in this installment of the saga, with Dagny way behind the audience in figuring out that John Galt must be behind this magical free-energy engine that she stumbled across. More and more rich and creative folk are vanishing, gas is up to $42.29 a gallon (so only the rich can drive or fly), the trains aren't running on time and the rich have had enough. By golly, they're the giants in this world, the Atlases holding it on their shoulders. And they're going on strike.
We take time out to go a classical music concert and squeeze in an executive jet chase. And characters preach to one another, and to the choir this movie is intended for.
And yes, Fox News personalities have cameos in it.
Every has-been villain in Hollywood has signed on to play a government heavy or others "standing in the way" of Rand's hero class. There's Tom Wilson, the bully from Back to the Future; bald and beady-eyed Paul McCrane from Robocop, and EveryVillain Ray Wise as the "Head of State." One hilarious bit of casting has Diedrich Bader as the scientist, Quentin Daniels. He has made a career of playing dopes, so it's a giggle to see the onetime Jethro of The Beverly Hillbillies commence to ciphering out how this here static electricity reactor works.
Laughable or not, it's hard to see Atlas Shrugged: Part II as anything but a "through the looking glass" movie, in which up is down, right is wrong and the reckless rich are depicted as victims. It's absurd. It's also timely, with vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan having claimed in the past to be an Ayn Rand fan.
Atlas brings to mind the wag who described a politician as "a stupid person's idea of what a smart person sounds like." Atlas Shrugged: Part II is a stupid person's idea of what a smart movie sounds like.