- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 1, 2003

“I feel the weight of the future bearing down,” confides Nick Stahl as the new incarnation of John Connor in “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines.” Ironically, it’s the weight of past success that appears to crush this chintzy and cumbersome sequel.

“Terminator 3” fails to justify reviving a pretext that was never crying out for a third installment, let alone the further updates implied by the discouraging curtain line, “The battle has just begun.”

On the contrary, “Terminator 3” is convincing evidence that the battle is over — and has been ever since director James Cameron and Arnold Schwarzenegger agreed to collaborate on “Terminator 2: Judgment Day,” a lavish, overextended and ultimately reassuring 1991 sequel to their admirably ominous, fleet and resourceful science-fiction thriller of 1984, “The Terminator.”

A genuine sleeper, the prototype reached a larger public than anticipated through the home video market, then a novel and underrated supplement to theatrical moviegoing. Mr. Schwarzenegger was launched on a sustained starring career by impersonating a killer cyborg from the near future, programmed to liquidate Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor, the mother of the still unborn John Connor, supposedly destined to become a liberator of humans oppressed by a postapocalyptic tyranny of supercomputers.

A large international public awaited the first sequel and made it the overwhelming hit of 1991. The audience was pleased with a more ambitious production and a shift in motivation for Mr. Schwarzenegger, who returned as a Terminator programmed to shield an adolescent John Connor, portrayed by Edward Furlong, from a new line of shape-shifting cyborgs. In addition, Mr. Cameron’s special effects unit had perfected an optical illusion known as morphing to authenticate the shape-shifter. It became a technical attraction in its own right.

“Terminator 3,” entrusted to Jonathan Mostow, director of “U-571,” enters the marketplace with scant novelty value. This movie would appear to be courting mass disillusion — at precisely the moment when summer audiences have begun to show serious resistance to copycat sequels.

According to Mr. Schwarzenegger, fans have been clamoring for another “Terminator” movie for the past decade, but this belated endeavor had to go forward without the participation of the indispensable Mr. Cameron. Moreover, “Terminator 3” is a franchise that seems to have restarted on the cheap and is lacking confidence in a fresh approach. As a practical matter, what is the clever encore when Mr. Schwarzenegger already has been the ruthless Terminator and then the redemptive Terminator? The Dancing Terminator? The Terminator who wants to play Hamlet?

The screenwriters settled on the overmatched Terminator. John Connor, now a vagabond narrator in his early 20s, is threatened by a dishy cyborg (Kristanna Loken). Like her predecessors, the new menace also materializes from the near future, in a big bubble of static electricity inside a Beverly Hills department store display window. Viewed in the nude from a reverse angle, Miss Loken makes a far shapelier entrance than Mr. Schwarzenegger a sequence or two later. Also a study in naked teleportation, he creates a decidedly blocky impression while striding toward a strip bar to consummate a lame gag in which the Terminator must demand a wardrobe from one of the male performers.

Miss Loken’s cyborg represents the latest lethal refinement: the T-X. Mr. Schwarzenegger lumbers around with an obsolete T-101 frame, evidently more primitive than the T-1000 he illustrated in the first sequel. As a result, he frequently takes a pounding while gamely protecting Mr. Stahl and a potential consort, Claire Danes as a veterinarian named Kate Brewster, from premature T-X calamity.

The episodes that show the underdog fugitive status of the trio — T-101, John and Kate — prove a succession of rambling wrecks. They commence with a stupefying vehicular chase through both industrial and residential parts of Los Angeles. I was wondering why T-X needed to commandeer a rig that supports an enormous construction crane. The answer: the better to demolish everything within reach of the crane while it supposedly speeds along the highway, failing to overtake the heroes.

Subsequent showdowns at a graveyard, a military command headquarters and an abandoned bunker also fail to camouflage flimsy props and flimsier powers of invention. I was mildly amused by one gag: Mr. Schwarzenegger pretends to tear out a fuel cell from his innards and discard it in the desert, where it causes a mini-nuclear detonation.

An interlude that summarizes the star’s dilemma occurs at a hangar, where his Terminator becomes immobilized after bashing the hood of a truck in what appears to be an anger-management crisis. The sad fact is that the Terminator franchise appears to have left Mr. Schwarzenegger in a muscle-bound bind. He may soon have all the incentive necessary to abandon the struggle with T-Xes and target the California governor’s mansion instead.


TITLE: “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines”

RATING: R (Frequent graphic violence in a science-fiction format; fleeting profanity and nudity)

CREDITS: Directed by Jonathan Mostow. Screenplay by John Brancato and Michael Ferris. Cinematography by Don Burgess. Production design by Jeff Mann. Terminator makeup and animatronic effects by Stan Winston. Digital animation supervisor: Dan Taylor. Visual effects supervisor: Pablo Helman. Costume design by April Ferry. Music by Barco Beltrami

RUNNING TIME: 109 minutes


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