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Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines

Year: 2003
Production Co: C2/Intermedia
Studio: Columbia
Director: Johnathan Mostow
Producer: Gale Anne Hurd/Mario Kassar/Andrew Vajna
Cast: Arnold Schwearzenegger, Nick Stahl, Kristinna Loken, Claire Danes
How is Arnold Schwarzenegger like a nude Playboy model?

You know when an actress (or singer) reaches that point in her career. It's been a while since she's had a hit, the phone's stopped ringing, people have stopped talking about her.

Whether it's a publicity-seeking second stab at fame or the attempt to brush off worn-out appeal as a child star and gain some 'adult' credibility, a pictorial in a soft porn mag is a common stopover (sometimes a final resting place) in the career of a starlet. Think Tiffany, Drew Barrymore and others, and watch for Mary Kate and Ashley any day now.

After a long dry stretch containing only a handful of movies (from the forgettable - End of Days - to the woeful - The 6th Day, Batman Forever), Arnie must have been hurting. To sign up for a guaranteed attention grabber like a new Terminator movie (the franchise that started everything for him) is the cinematic equivalent of a former Hollywood darling cashing in her chips and getting her kit off. The world's attention will once again (albeit briefly) be centred on our most iconic action movie hero.

And as a bonus, Arnie can go back to what he's always done best, keeping the thesping to a minimum to play an emotionless robot with a permanently frozen expression and a monotone.

It's 10 years since John Connor (Edward Furlong) and his mother Sarah (Linda Hamilton) fled the dreaded liquid metal T-1000 (Robert Patrick) with the help of a reprogrammed T-800. Now living life outside the periphery of society to stay anonymous, John Connor (this time played by Nick Stahl) has seen the original date of judgement day - August 29, 1997 - come and go without incident.

But he's haunted by dreams of ships flying over oceans of skulls and armies of terminators hunting the remnants of humanity across the war-torn Earth, and he believes it's still going to happen.

The premise of T3 from then on is a little shaky - it's essentially the same as T2. A new model is sent back to kill Connor and the twentysomethings who'll be his senior officers during the war, including veterinary assistant Kate (Danes). So the good guys capture, reprogram and send back another T-800 to protect them.

On the run from the most fearsome terminator yet - the TX - in the shapely form of Kristinna Loken (whose star is set to skyrocket), the T-800, John and Kate find themselves in a race against time. They find out that judgement day does indeed happen - in a matter of only hours, and they have to reach Skynet to shut it down.

T3 branches into a slight anti-war parable with the inclusion of the beginnings of the machine army. A computer virus is sweeping the world and the military brass is worried. Skynet (the system from the first two movies that ends up waging the war) is about to be born in an Area 51-like army base designed to reach self awareness and provide communications control for the entire US military.

What nobody realises (until it's too late, of course) is that Skynet is, the virus, itching for someone to throw the switch and set it loose so it can let the early machine army - already in the usable stage - loose on its creators.

Questions abound. Will judgement day be stopped? Will Connor survive to go on to lead the human resistance to victory? But the most pertinent is this; given James Cameron's conspicuous absence from T3 (he's still too busy playing toy boats with the Titanic), can director Jonathan Mostow (U571) pull it off?

The good news is that while you occasionally see the absence of Cameron's technical finesse, Mostow does a fantastic job. The action sequences are gloriously loud and over the top without the silicon-implanted cartoonishness we've seen lately. The veterinary truck, remote controlled police cars and mobile crane chase (yes, you read that right) will leave you panting.

A new addition are several snippets of outright comedy - usually at the expense of the T-800's new surroundings, but otherwise all the familiar elements you're looking forward to if you're a fan are plentiful. Forget popcorn - you'll need a seatbelt.

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