Combustible Celluloid
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With: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Nick Stahl, Claire Danes, Kristanna Loken, David Andrews, Mark Famiglietti, Earl Boen, Moira Harris, Chopper Bernet, Christopher Lawford
Written by: John Brancato, Michael Ferris, Tedi Sarafian
Directed by: Jonathan Mostow
MPAA Rating: R for strong sci-fi violence and action, and for language and brief nudity
Running Time: 109
Date: 06/30/2003

Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003)

2 Stars (out of 4)

Ghost of the 'Machines'

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

We live in a time when all sequels are required to somehow outdo their predecessors in terms of size, content, sound, fury, etc. Everything has to be bigger, louder and faster. Sometimes that works, but often it doesn't.

And so it's very refreshing that the new Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines is much smaller and lower-key than the previous film, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, which in 1991 was the biggest and most expensive film ever made.

Indeed, T3 sometimes feels a bit like the first Terminator, which writer/director James Cameron made for a measly $6.5 million back in 1984, using stop-motion effects, camera tricks and matte paintings, just like an old-time monster movie.

And for a little while, T3 actually looks like it's going somewhere. John Connor is now a twentysomething pretty-boy (Nick Stahl) who lives "off the grid," i.e. has no identification, no phone number, no address. A new, evil Terminator comes to kill him, arriving -- just like in the last movie -- in a glowing sphere and with no clothes. Only this time, she's a sexy blonde, called a T-X (Kristanna Loken).

The old model Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) arrives as well, and this time we know he's the good guy (they tried to fool us last time). His job is to protect John as well as John's future bride, the veterinarian Kate Brewster (Claire Danes), who will eventually become John's first lieutenant in the war against the machines.

The movie starts with a good joke riffing on T2. The Terminator enters a biker bar in the hopes of obtaining some sturdy leather clothes, but instead stumbles into a ladies' night strip-show complete with gay leather boys. Arnold not only gets some stylish duds but also learns the useful phrase, "talk to the hand."

But both Cameron and series star Linda Hamilton opted out of the new film, and that's probably a very good indicator that this latest installment isn't as good as its predecessors.

As soon as the film's first chase scene hits, the whole thing sputters and never gets back into gear. As directed by Jonathan Mostow (Breakdown, U-571), the action scenes are of the shaky, choppy variety. Certain individual shots are completely blurry and almost totally unusable.

From there, the movie only sinks into stupid expository scenes, in which perfectly good actors are dressed up, plunked in front of the camera, and forced to explain to us what's going on. (Essentially, the heroes have to stop the military from engaging a computer software program that will launch a nuclear attack.)

Mostow and screenwriters John Brancato, Michael Ferris and Tedi Sarafian can't even stick to the rules regarding their new villain. Depending on the circumstance, the T-X can either run as fast as a car, or can't. Sometimes she can be stopped by an explosion and sometimes she can't. She's not much of a bad guy, and is not nearly as threatening as Robert Patrick was in T2 -- though she effectively adopts some of his creepy mannerisms and movements.

Likewise Stahl, our new John Connor, has none of the talent or charisma that Edward Furlong showed in T2. He looks more like a teddy bear or a Backstreet Boy than a great leader. It's physically impossible to believe that one grew into the other.

As the movie draws to its climax, the action grows more and more laughable. Stahl's labored performance grows more and more hysterical. Even someone as good as Danes is all but wasted as she suddenly announces that she's been trained to fly her father's nearby aircraft. (What luck!)

Terminator 3 does a reasonable job of generating suspense from time to time, but the emotional involvement does not reach nearly the same level as the previous films.

In retrospect, Rise of the Machines is a perfect title for a film that feels written by machines. Perhaps this would have made a decent straight-to-video item. It's more worthy of a $3 rental and a bag of microwave popcorn than it is a trip to the multiplex.

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