Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines dir. Jonathan Mostow

Now playing at a buttload of theaters.

The time is right, in marketing, for a return of Arnold Schwarzenegger. Cinema is another matter. The Aryan Muscle is, after all, a terrible and ridiculous actor. But with Dubya in the White House, Schwarzenegger's return to the multiplexes couldn't be better timed. Schwarzenegger was always a Reagan/Bush-era superstar, and though his last big hit, True Lies, was birthed in 1994, even it was soaked with Red State-friendly patriotic bluster, as Schwarzenegger single-handedly crushed a Muslim terrorist unit and still made it home for dinner with the family.

And now, after a late-'90s dance around the rim of the cinematic dustbin, Schwarzenegger is reprising his most famous role (his pec-flexing turn as "Hired Goon" in Robert Altman's The Long Goodbye notwithstanding) as the T-101 in Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines. You remember the T-101, don't you? He was the cyborg with the perplexing Austrian accent you first met in The Terminator, when he was the villain, and then in Terminator 2: Judgment Day, when he was the hero. Now the ancient 'borg has returned, again trying to keep John Connor alive and, as a result, save the future. This time, however, his nemesis is not the liquid-metal T-1000 of T2, but rather, an improvement called T-X. The "X" apparently stands for X-chromosome, as the evil cyborg this time is not a dude, but a beautiful woman. It has been 83 years since the passing of the 19th Amendment, and now, finally, women are able to claim victory in the battle for equality. They have their own ultimate killing machine.

Actually, speaking of feminism: Terminator 3 is sorely lacking it. Specifically, it is lacking Linda Hamilton, whose tough coolness in T2 was a definite boost. I can still remember hearing giggles of appreciation in the theater when Hamilton made her first appearance in the sequel, smothered in glaring sunlight and doing pull-ups on the leg of her upended bed. The shot brought the audience to the same quick conclusion: She kicks supreme ass. Unfortunately, no such conclusion can be made from Terminator 3, for instead of Hamilton we get Claire Danes, she of the trembling lip. Always a fine actress, Danes is completely out of her element here, spending the bulk of her time onscreen being yanked and shoved about by the two male leads. This is very disappointing, for her role in the story is of Connor's future wife, and the mother of his child, which offers a rather depressing timeline ahead of her: In the post-apocalyptic world, she can look forward to being barefoot and pregnant.

Also absent this time around is director James Cameron. Still in his post-Titanic gun-shy mode, Cameron is sorely missed. This lack is not just felt in the direction, but also--and I never thought I'd write this--in the film's writing. Filled with more than a few forehead-slap-inducing lines (including an homage to Schwarzenegger's horrendous Commando), the script feels like little more than an afterthought, with dialogue hastily scribbled in order to link lengthy action sequences together. Said sequences are suitably big, to be sure, but there is very little creativity behind them: Director Jonathan Mostow has skill, but he also has a heavier-is-better mentality--every vehicle used, from a giant crane truck to a hearse, is large and unwieldy to maximize destruction. By the time not one but two helicopters crash into the same building, one after the other, you may wish John Connor would just go ahead and get snuffed already, if for no other reason than to halt production of T4.

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