July 2, 2003

 

MOVIE REVIEW

Arnold and pals, acting machines

A robot movie with heart, 'Terminator 3' combines brisk action with compelling drama. And what a supporting cast.

 

Humanity's hope: Claire Danes, Nick Stahl and Arnold Schwarzenegger battle a network of evil robots in "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines."

 

 

By Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

 

"I am an obsolete design," Arnold Schwarzenegger's T-101 says with as much melancholy as a machine can muster, but hearing the line spoken in "Terminator 3" makes you wonder if the actor had himself in mind as much as his character.

 

For as a 55-year-old action hero whose most recent films include such inert efforts as "End of Days," "The 6th Day" and "Collateral Damage," Schwarzenegger might well be considering whether he's being similarly frozen out by a film industry that assumes his best fighting days are behind him.

 

But, like that resilient mechanism, Schwarzenegger still has enough moxie in him for at least one last hurrah before possibly heeding the siren song of public service. "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines" and its story of the 101's battle to stay competitive with the newest model assassin, the sexy T-X (Kristanna Loken), fills that bill quite nicely.

 

An expertly paced and efficient sci-fi thrill machine, "T3" effectively marries impressive action sequences with persuasive storytelling and its star's uniquely appealing style of "No" drama as in no reaction, no expression, no emotion of any kind.

 

While "T3" would not have been made without Schwarzenegger's participation, it would not have succeeded without the ability of its lesser-known director, Jonathan Mostow. Though his name lacks the marquee value of that of James Cameron, who ably directed both predecessors, Mostow's skillful work in his own previous features, "Breakdown" and "U-571," made him a shrewd choice here.

 

In those films as well as this, Mostow shows a gift for doing action right by not dumbing things down and by emphasizing the underlying reality of even far-fetched situations. And, unlike directors who come to action from music videos and commercials, he understands the necessity of connecting mayhem to human storytelling.

 

In "T3," Mostow has in effect made a big little movie, bringing the leanness and pacing of old-fashioned B pictures to an elephantine, $175-million project that has five producers and four executive producers. Unlike the original "Terminator" or the first "Matrix," this film does not break any new ground stylistically or thematically, but it also doesn't have a big head and thus avoids falling victim to the pretension that hampered the "Matrix" sequel.

 

Also, again paralleling B movies, Mostow and screenwriters John Brancato and Michael Ferris (working from a story credited to them and Tedi Sarafian) have given "T3" an unexpected level of darkness. An intriguing sense of malaise and dread hangs over this film, as though the creative team has thought through the implications of the original "Terminator" narrative and realized they are not necessarily happy ones.

 

If anyone in the audience doesn't know that story, "T3" smartly recaps it in the film's opening voice-over, in which twentysomething John Connor relates that mechanical killers from the future, terminators, have twice tried to murder him because he is fated to grow into a commander who will lead remnants of the human race to victory in a war with a deadly machine complex called Skynet.

 

Instead of being ecstatic at the prospect of all this glory, Connor, ever the reluctant champion, has opted to hide instead. Since he knows that something awful the destruction of almost all humanity in a nuclear attack called Judgment Day has to happen before he can become a hero, he "feels the weight of the future bearing down" on him.

 

One of the many shrewd moves "T3" has made is casting Nick Stahl, Marisa Tomei's lover in "In the Bedroom," as Connor. Stahl is especially good at conveying the lost, haunted, fearful side of this young man. Connor should feel safe after defeating the machines in the previous film (when he was played by Edward Furlong), but he doesn't, instead choosing to live off the grid, without address or phone number, so the machines can't find him.

 

As Connor surmises, Judgment Day turns out not to have been stopped but merely postponed, and the machines have sent T-X to kill not only him but also his future lieutenants, who include though neither he nor she is initially aware of it old childhood friend Kate Brewster (Claire Danes).

 

Convincingly played (no small task) by Loken as the kind of glacial blond who would have given Alfred Hitchcock fits, T-X comes factory-equipped with quite a range of nifty powers. This forbidding Terminatrix/dominatrix can change shape at will and telepathically make other machines, including cars and trucks, do her bidding.

 

T-101, officially a replica of "T2's" cyborg, ought to be worried, and in fact might be if machines could fret. But as brought to artificial life by Schwarzenegger in the role he was born to play, this old-style Terminator, reprogrammed by the resistance to help Connor survive, is more stoic than the Stoics and, like those old Timex watches, can take a licking and keep on ticking.

 

Though Schwarzenegger was a given, the rest of the ensemble was not, and casting directors Randi Hiller and Sarah Halley Finn have paid attention to even the smallest parts. The empathetic Danes was a good choice for Kate, a thankless role that is especially hard to make palatable because, apparently not having seen either of the first two films, this woman spends half the movie in whiny hysteria because she has no idea what is going on. "T3" manages to find some time for humor, engaging in bits of business like T-101's search for the perfect sunglasses. A film like this, however, lives and dies by its action and its stunts, and as put together by Mostow, stunt coordinator Simon Crane and cinematographer Don Burgess "T3" has at least one classic.

 

That impressive sequence comes relatively early on, as T-X commandeers an enormous 100-ton Champion crane and uses it and some police cars to chase down the good guys, with the T-101 hanging on and trying to gum up the works. Snappily edited by Neil Travis and Nicolas de Toth, the chase features a bravura slamming of the crane arm into a collapsing glass building that was shot by 14 cameras because it wasn't going to happen again.

 

Impressive as all that is, "T3's" greatest accomplishment may be the simple ability to make us worry about its characters, the way it allows us to feel that the people being chased are in actual danger. Not even $175 million ensures that that will happen. In fact, it sometimes ensures just the opposite.

 

'Terminator 3'

 

MPAA rating: R, for strong sci-fi violence and action, language and brief nudity.

 

Times guidelines: Much violence but not excessively bloody or gory.

 

Arnold Schwarzenegger ... Terminator

Nick Stahl ... John Connor

Claire Danes ... Kate Brewster

Kristanna Loken ... T-X

David Andrews ... Robert Brewster

 

Mario F. Kassar and Andrew G. Vajna present an Intermedia/IMP production, in association with C2 Pictures and Mostow/Lieberman Productions. Director Jonathan Mostow. Producers Mario F. Kassar, Andrew G. Vajna, Joel B. Michaels, Hal Lieberman, Colin Wilson. Executive producers Moritz Borman, Guy East, Nigel Sinclair, Gale Anne Hurd. Screenplay John Brancato and Michael Ferris, based on a story by John Brancato, Michael Ferris and Tedi Sarafian. Cinematographer Don Burgess. Editors Neil Travis, Nicholas de Toth. Costumes April Ferry. Music Marco Beltrami. Production design Jeff Mann. Art directors Mark Zuelzke, Beat Frutiger, Andrew Menzies, Shepherd Frankel. Set decorator Jay R. Hart. Running time: 1 hour, 39 minutes.

 

 

Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines

Reviewed by Lisa Schwarzbaum, Entertainment Weekly

 

BATTLE BOTS Loken and Schwarzenegger put on the hurt

 

Close proximity with the 2 Green 2 Furious action stylings of ''The Hulk'' benefits Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines. But it turns out comparison isn't needed to appreciate the durable charms of Old Ironsides himself, Arnold Schwarzenegger. Suited up once again in the blocky cyborg's iconic Village People leatherwear, after an absence of a dozen years, a fearsomely well-moisturized Schwarzenegger stars as a collector's-edition replica of the T-800 that was destroyed for the good of mankind in 1991's ''Terminator 2: Judgment Day.''

 

In ''T3,'' the replicant -- now renumbered T-101 -- lands in Los Angeles to fight off a state-of-the-art T-X killing machine (Kristanna Loken, suitably, unsettlingly vacant), a comely model stalking the city's vulnerable streets. And with him, we return to a franchise we never knew we missed, surprisingly grateful for the star's generosity -- and evident pleasure -- in strapping on the old sunglasses and blasting adversaries to hell.

 

Tops on T-X's to-do list before machines can rule the earth in the expressionless, wrinkle-free future is to kill a couple of humans who stand in the way of world domination: John (Nick Stahl), the now-grown son of the late freedom fighter Sarah Connor (so memorably sculpted by Linda Hamilton), and Kate Brewster (Claire Danes), a do-gooding veterinarian linked by misty fate to Connor.

 

Tops on T-101's agenda, meanwhile, is proving that a story born out of the chrome-y clang of the 1980s -- a durable alloy of Schwarzenegger's schnitzel appeal and director James Cameron's apocalyptic vision -- has a place in a very different action-hero world, in a sequel made without Cameron and starring a middle-aged specimen of Austrian precision engineering and American body-shop repair. (As it is with cyborgs and movie stars, the aging takes place in the internal combustion system, while the casing looks smooth as ever.)

 

That ''T3'' fulfills its assignment so ably is a triumph of brain taking over where brawn can no longer prevail: What Schwarzenegger lacks in speed and agility he, director Jonathan Mostow, and screenwriters John Brancato and Michael Ferris make up for in bright, heavy metal charm, unexpectedly lively and self-aware wit, and a sure sense of when to stop fussing with special effects and just let Arnold's famous ''doan doo dot'' Teutonic-Conehead monotone work its low-tech magic.

 

Not to stomp the big guy when he's down, but ''T3'' casually displays exactly what ''The Hulk'' misses -- which is to say a seriously happy sense of scale, and an awareness of the world (both inside and outside the movie theater) in which it holds a place. ''Ainguh is maw yoosful dan despayuh,'' T-101 philosophizes. But Mostow -- a great choice for the job, based on the big yet lithe work he did with ''U-571'' and, especially, ''Breakdown'' -- knows that yoomah is more useful than CGI in selling both action figures and movie stars.

 

LEAD PERFORMANCE: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Nick Stahl

SUPPORTING PERFORMANCE: Claire Danes, Kristanna Loken

DIRECTOR: Jonathan Mostow

WRITER: Tedi Sarafian

RELEASE DATE: Jul 2 2003

RATING: R

GENRE: Action, Sci-Fi

RUN TIME: 109 Minutes

DISTRIBUTOR | BROADCAST: Warner Bros.

RELATED: The Terminator (Franchise)

SEQUEL: Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)