With The Matrix having just reloaded, it wasn't clear there'd be enough room, in our hearts and wallets, for Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines. But Arnold Schwarzenegger, the real-life hulk who pulverized the box-office during the '80s and '90s, appears to have at least one blockbuster left in him. Terminator 3 has less mythical resonance than Terminator and Terminator 2; it doesn't capture the dark side of an era, as those two movies did. But in an end-of-the-world, we're-all-gonna-die kind of way, it's fun. And just to see that name ' 'Schwarzenegger' ' stretched across Point's UltraScreen brought a smile to my face. He's back, albeit older and frailer.
And funnier. In T1, learning his lines was a cinch; there were only about four of them. Here, he's like Henny Youngman, cracking jokes that shouldn't make us laugh but do anyway. It really is the role he was born to play ' a killing machine that, for reasons known only to Skynet, speaks with an Austrian accent. Equally mysterious is why T3's latest terminator model, the T-X (Kristanna Loken), looks like Tippi Hedren by way of Sharon Stone ' an icy blond in red leather who literally could have conquered Iraq with her index finger. Cocking her head slightly before dispatching victims to the hereafter, Loken gives robotic acting a good name.
Oh, yes, the story. Well, it's kind of T2 all over again, with everybody a little older and the T-X fembot replacing the T-1000 himbot. When the movie opens, John Connor, now played by the soulful Nick Stahl, has made it to his 20s but, what with Judgment Day having been averted, doesn't have much to do except sit around and mope about the role he might have played in the future. But wait a minute, Judgment Day wasn't averted, it was postponed. And it's only a few hours before Skynet achieves self-awareness and unleashes all-out war against humankind. Can Connor and his love interest (a screechy Clair Danes) find and pull the plug in time?
Credit T3 with at least complicating the answer to that question. And credit director Jonathan Mostow (U-571) with delivering an action-traction extravaganza that doesn't merely pound us into submission. It does pound us, though. There's a crushing, crashing chase sequence, early on, that blows The Matrix Reloaded off the highway. Actually, the whole movie's a chase sequence; all three of them are. And the only thing missing from T3 is the sense that there's no escape. T1 was full of dread. T2, though slicker and quicker, got under your skin. But T3 seems content to show us a good time. And Arnold, who used to make his living pumping iron, now makes it pumping irony.
Unless called upon to save California, he'll be back.