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(2003) (Arnold Schwarzenegger, Nick Stahl) (R)

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Sci-fi: A cyborg from the future is sent to the present where he tries to protect the future savior and leader of humanity from a deadly, android assassin.
Nearly a decade after the human resistance movement of the future sent a reprogrammed cyborg, the Terminator (ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER), to protect their future savior and leader, their machine foes have now sent a more advanced terminator unit, the T-X (KRISTANNA LOKEN) to kill John Connor (NICK STAHL).

An android that looks like an anatomically correct woman, the T-X can assume the shape of anything she touches and control any machine, and has been programmed to kill John and various other future lieutenants, such as veterinarian Kate Brewster (CLAIRE DANES).

The resistance, however, has again sent one of the older terminator units (ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER) back in time to the present to protect John and Kate from the T-X. As the pending nuclear Armageddon approaches, John and Kate, with the help of the Terminator, try to avoid the repeated attacks of the T-X unit and race to save humanity.

OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10
Unlike in real life, characters in movies have a way of defying both the aging process and mortality. The prime example of the former is James Bond who, through the magic of recasting, has managed to remain mostly ageless and always loses some years with each change.

The latter not only applies to vampires, zombies and the rest of the undead, as well as villains who keep coming back to life and need to be "killed" yet another time, but also those who are resurrected. That usually occurs in sci-fi films, such as the "Star Trek" pictures where Spock returned for several more sequels after his death in the second film.

Arnold Schwarzenegger's T-1000 character in "Terminator 2" wasn't necessarily brought back to life after his literal crushing death in the first film. That's because he technically wasn't the exact same unit, but rather a replacement model.

Yet, for all intent purposes he returned, only to have a severe meltdown at the end of the 1991 film. A little molten ore, however, isn't enough to keep a good (in the second case) terminator down. Thus, the possible future governor of California reprises the famous character in "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines" and makes good of his promise that "I'll be back."

While the aspiring politician's aging body isn't a terrible problem (for an action film) since it actually fits in with the antiquated (if futuristic) and increasingly battered android he plays, a number of people in front of and behind the camera apparently decided this series might have gotten too unreliable for their return.

Most notable are the absences of pivotal T2 stars Linda Hamilton and Edward Furlong. The one that has had people most worried, however, is that of T1 & T2 director James Cameron. Since it was his masterful combination of action, character and story that made those films so popular, many fretted that his absence would be sorely and noticeably missed.

While one can immediately tell that Cameron is missing, and the film has its share of flaws and drawbacks, one could do far worse when looking for a high-octane summer action flick. The biggest complaint is that the script by screenwriters John Brancato & Michael Ferris ("The Game," "The Net") is a bit too similar to that of the second film where an unstoppable and impervious terminator unit pursues its target and battles the old Schwarzenegger one while doing so.

Although Kristanna Loken ("Panic," "Gangland") is obviously easy on the eyes and has her moments in the role, her character clearly isn't as frightening as Robert Patrick's liquid metal one in "T2" and lacks the novelty factor (despite some new technological enhancements) that made his so memorable.

Some fun is had with the repetitive material - including Schwarzenegger's nude arrival and subsequent search for clothing that includes a funny twist - and there is some humor and Arnie's trademark one-liners. Yet, everything has a tad too much of a familiar ring to it, and the second film's strong political message and father/son dynamic aren't as strong this time around.

The film also misses the initial "is he good or bad" element regarding whether Schwarzenegger's terminator was sent to kill or protect John Connor. It has the chance to revive that late in the film, but skips and/or ignores the possibilities. Brancato & Ferris do a decent job, however, in continuing the sci-fi plotline in relation to what occurred and was discussed in the first two films.

Most viewers, however, are probably less concerned with that than with whether the action scenes are any good. In that regard, director Jonathan Mostow ("U-571," "Breakdown") and his visual effects and stunt crew have done a good job in staging and executing the various chase and battle sequences.

Most memorable - and possibly occurring too soon in the film since nothing else that follows matches it - is a scene involving a large crane truck and a tremendous amount of vehicular and property damage left in the wake of an extended chase sequence. It's as good an action sequence as you'll probably see all year. Other effects work is top-notch and obviously shows off the film's substantial production budget.

Beyond Schwarzenegger ("Collateral Damage," "The 6th Day") and Loken, Nick Stahl ("In the Bedroom," "The Thin Red Line") plays the older version of Furlong's John Connor. While okay in the role, he lacks the leadership qualities one would imagine and has outgrown the rebelliousness that Furlong so aptly conveyed.

Claire Danes ("The Hours," "Igby Goes Down ") somewhat takes over the Linda Hamilton role but isn't given much with which to work, which also holds true for David Andrews ("Hannibal," "Fight Club") who plays her general father and immediate tie-in to the SkyNet element that finally comes into play late in the film.

Notwithstanding the time travel conundrum - including, but not limited to why the machines didn't send the T-X back to pilgrim days to eliminate the targets' ancestors (which would also defeat the entertainment value of these films since they're all about the relentless chase and fight sequences and the pilgrims probably would not have been able to put up much of a fight) - and the familiar aspects of the plot from its predecessor, the film has enough decent action sequences to earn a recommendation. "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines" rates as a 6 out of 10.

Reviewed June 30, 2003 / Posted July 2, 2003

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