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Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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Movie shocker: New York Times finally gets around to panning 'Atlas Shrugged'

April 29, 2011 |  2:03 pm

Ayn_rand In New York media circles, especially in conservative New York media circles, wonderers have been wondering over the past couple of weeks -- will the New York Times ever bother to review "Atlas Shrugged"? The film, which was marketed as the movie liberal Hollywood didn't want you to see, has been a cause célèbre on outlets like Fox News as a daring attempt to bring Ayn Rand's literary celebration of capitalism to the big screen.

The movie's supporters gleefully labeled it a hit after its April 15 opening, since it was indeed that weekend's top-grossing limited release movie, making $1.7 million on only 299 screens. The reviews were horrible, with the film earning a dismal 9% fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes, with Roger Ebert dismissing it as "the most anticlimactic non-event since Geraldo Rivera broke into Al Capone's vault." Of course, sneers from liberal critics were to be expected.

But despite lots of cheerleading from conservative media outlets, the film's core audience turned out to be pretty small. The movie's box office dropped so much in its second weekend that its backer, conservative businessman John Aglialoro, who spent more than $20 million of his own money making and distributing the film, threw in the towel, telling my colleague Rebecca Keegan that he's considering abandoning plans for proposed second and third installments. "Why should I put up all that money if the critics are coming in like lemmings?" he said.

Aglialoro added: "The New York Times gave us the most hateful review of all -- they didn't cover it."

In fact, New York's paper of record routinely reviews virtually every movie, no matter how small, that has a commercial run in New York. But not "Atlas Shrugged," a decision that prompted lots of jeering from the arch-rival New York Post, which repeatedly hammered the NYT for ignoring the film.

On Friday things changed. Two weeks after the film opened, the paper ran a review by Carina Chocano, a former critic at my paper who's been freelancing for Rupert Murdoch's the Daily and writing movie-related essays for the Times' Sunday magazine. Clearly no fan of Rand, Chocano was just as dismissive of the film as all  the other liberal critics. Here's a brief excerpt:

For unintentional yet somehow boring hilarity, the novel can’t touch the cinematic adaptation, which shifts the action to 2016 and presents Rand’s ham-fisted fable of laissez-faire capitalism as something C-Span might make if it ever set out to create a futuristic, proto-libertarian nighttime soap....The resulting film, directed by Paul Johansson, feels rushed, amateurish and clumsy. It’s not just the ideologies that feel oddly out of step with the present day, but the clothes, hairstyles and interiors — which are meant to register as lavish — instead come across as low-rent and sad.

I'm sure this won't satisfy anyone, certainly not the film's backers, who surely believe more than ever that they didn't get a fair shake from the liberal media, especially when they can point to the disparity between the film's Rotten Tomatoes critic's score (9%) and its audience rating (85%). On the other hand, "The Conspirator," a stagy allegorical drama about a plot to assassinate Abraham Lincoln by liberal icon Robert Redford, only earned a middling 54% Rotten Tomatoes score, which seems to imply that not all liberal critics are in the bag when it comes to praising their liberal filmmaking brethren.

My advice to conservative filmmakers: Don't waste your time on out-of-date icons like Rand, since today's audiences will rarely show up for any kind of period drama, especially one stuffed with boring political ideology. Make comedies. It's an art form uniquely suited for conservative ideology, since by nature, comedies make fun of self-aggrandizing, out-of-touch, politically correct dolts, which you'd have to admit can be found nearly everywhere in Hollywood.

If academia, for example, is really as brimming with stuffy liberal elitists as conservatives say it is, then surely the time is ripe for a right-leaning "Animal House," with all of the outrageous John Belushi-style Delta House characters played by subversive young conservatives. As D Day's Bruce McGill says in the movie: "We have an old saying in Delta House: Don't get mad, get even." It's good advice. Conservatives should take it.


'Atlas Shrugged' finally comes to the big screen

Review: 'Atlas Shrugged'

'Atlas Shrugged' producer: 'Critics, you won'

 -- Patrick Goldstein

Photo: Ayn Rand, author of "Atlas Shrugged," in New York, from a 1962 file photo.

Credit: Associated Press