U.S. Release Date: July 2, 2003
Distributor: Warner Bros.
Producer: Gale Anne Hurd, Colin Wilson
Composer: Marco Beltrami
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Nick Stahl, Claire Danes, Kristanna Loken
Running Time: 1 hour and 49 minutes
MPAA Rating: R (strong sci-fi violence and action, language and brief nudity)

Don't Be Back
by Scott Holleran

Terminator fans are likely to enjoy Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, the second sequel to one of the first action pictures to appeal to audiences on a purely perceptual level. Those satisfied with dumbed-down heroism will be satisfied with T3's ear-splitting special effects. For the rest of us, the action—disconnected from anything remotely intelligible—is boring.

It's been 19 years since the first Terminator was released in theaters and 12 years since Terminator 2: Judgment Day, and the original concept, by writer and director James Cameron, needs some juice. As conceived in T3, Arnold Schwarzenegger's cyborg rescuing humanity's savior is neither convincing nor especially entertaining.

T3 starts with a narrative by drifter John Connor (Nick Stahl). Destined to save the human race in the first two movies, he vaguely senses that he's in danger but is unaware that now a new Terminator—a gimmicky female villain dubbed the T-X and played by luscious Kristanna Loken—is systematically wiping out his former schoolmates.

Connor encounters an old acquaintance (Claire Danes), and eventually they are confronted by both the T-X and Schwarzenegger's rusty standby model, which has been sent to protect them.

Well, sort of. There's more to the mission, but any attempt to make sense of T3 is futile. Writers John D. Brancato, Michael Ferris and Tedi Sarafian simply pretend T2 never happened. They defy their own rules of robotics and, to the extent there is a point, they conclude that everything happens without cause; bad forces spring from nothing.

In T3, evil means the rise of the machines—never mind who programs let alone might be able to unplug them—which brings the world to the brink of nuclear holocaust.

Though director Jonathan Mostow (U-571, Breakdown) initially captures the sense of impending doom and alienation implicit in the first movies, he doesn't make it matter. Stahl as John Connor is lifeless—he looks, talks and acts like a grunge band reject—and even the action falls flat. One sequence, in which the bad Terminator takes charge of a truck, is painfully long.

Cameron's Terminator movies were, in their best moments, soulful. He cast ordinary characters—Linda Hamilton's single mom, Edward Furlong's troubled teen—into perilous situations, and they rose to the occasion. Though Claire Danes tries—and she offers the movie's only depth—T3 is sorely missing a character like Sarah Connor.

Ultimately, T3 is a victim of its origins as Schwarzenegger's star vehicle. Mostow, tethered to Schwarzenegger's huge star status, places the aging robot at T3's center instead of those he seeks to save.

Minus a mortal hero worth fighting for, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines delivers causeless action, light humor and a performance by Schwarzenegger that captures the essence of his career and finishes what the original movie started: action for its own sake—which is as exciting and mysterious as the movie's famous tag line: I'll Be Back.

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