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Cyborg Cinema 

The third Terminator installment is moderately good, but the franchise clearly misses James Cameron.

For years, Arnold Schwarzenegger made claims that he would not revisit the Terminator franchise without its original co-creator and director, James Cameron.

Those public proclamations started within a couple years of 1991's excellent Terminator 2: Judgment Day, and it even appeared, at times, that Cameron might take another crack at the cyborg menace. But legal wrangling and an inability to get his feature-film head out of the Titanic's ass managed to keep Cameron away, while Arnie's career has been on a decidedly downward trajectory since Cameron's True Lies (1994).

Some bad comedies, a few tepid action flicks and one blown heart valve later, Schwarzenegger has reneged on his "No Cameron, no me!" pledge (for a reported $30 million paycheck) and once again dons black leather and shades for Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines. Cameron has given way to director Jonathan Mostow (U-571) and the results are quite schizoid. The arrival of a new super sleek female Terminator (Kristanna Loken) and the additions of Nick Stahl--replacing the troubled Edward Furlong as John Connor--and Claire Danes are major positives. Unfortunately, Mostow's over reliance on car chases and lame one-liners gets a bit tedious.

The film opens in modern-day Los Angeles, where Connor has become a paranoid recluse fearing that another Terminator might show up and start shooting, despite the alleged saving of the planet in Judgment Day. It turns out that the future, for complicated reasons that won't be explained here, has still been taken over by machines, and one of them has come back in time to commit multiple assassinations. It's the T-X, a machine that has plenty in common with the liquid metal Terminator played by Robert Patrick in T2. The big difference here is that the shape-shifting T-X is a woman ... and a mighty good-looking one.

Of course, another T-1 (Schwarzenegger, looking pretty damn fit) is sent back to do battle with the feminine baddie, and car chases ensue. While some of the auto carnage is impressive, this is where Cameron's absence is most apparent. For long stretches of the film, the darkness and doom that Cameron managed to convey is replaced by long, drawn-out car-chase scenarios. The film rarely stops to think, or make us think, and only begins to show promise as brainy science fiction in its final half hour. Until then, it's just a lot of boom-bang-boom.

As far as the action is concerned, the film delivers many good reasons for things to blow up. The CGI effects by Industrial Light and Magic range from competent to bad--when anything melts, it looks like garbage. And while the title of the film implies an all out machine revolution, a full-scale event never really takes place.

Schwarzenegger's third take at his most famous role is actually quite light-hearted, bordering on parody at times. Mostow insists upon joking about the prior films, with too many riffs on the infamous "I'll be back" line. The jokes are hit and miss, and an attempt to make Arnold's T-1 a conflicted, almost emotional being is ill conceived. One might long for the simple, non-complicated, fearsome killing machine of the first film.

A surprisingly bleak ending is actually the best thing about the movie and shows promise for a rumored Terminator 4. If the bulk of the film were half as good as the great ending, T3 would qualify as the summer's best blockbuster. As it stands, it's just a moderately good action film, definitely a few steps down from the classics that Cameron created. For sci-fi geeks, that could spell major letdown.

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