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Where's James Cameron when you need him?

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Posted: Friday, May 29, 2009 10:00 pm

I don't know about you, but I'm ready to relish in the transcendent joys of "Up," which I'm willing to bet won't somehow become the first film to taint Pixar's extraordinary, unblemished record. But, in light of this week's movie, that's really all the optimism I can convey at this point. I am otherwise deflated, and feel sullied and used. Thanks a lot, "Terminator Salvation."

Alright, who's responsible for this? I want names, I want accountability, and I want retribution. Of course, it would be convenient to place the lion's share of the blame on the shoulders of director McG (yes, McG) and his screenwriters John D. Brancato and Michael Ferris. But first of all, McG ain't exactly an auteur, and in any case, to do so would ignore a broader, more pressing issue: Who in their right mind actually hired these morons and put them in charge of not only a $200 million summer blockbuster, but indeed, a previously beloved, billion-dollar franchise that started out great but bottomed out and was in desperate need of a comeback?

"Terminator Salvation"

** (out of four)
2009, McG, U.S., PG-13
First viewing.

What kind of sick jerk takes a major project like a fourth "Terminator" film and then says, "Hey, yeah, ya know, I think I actually will call up that guy who directed the two 'Charlie's Angels' movies. Those were kinda fun, so why not entrust their maker with the task of resurrecting one of the most mammoth movie franchises Hollywood has ever seen? And screw it, while I'm at it, I might as well call up those two inseparable morons who penned such illustrious films as 'Catwoman' and `The Net,' and see if they're up to the task of sorting out what is arguably already the most plot hole-ridden mythology in the history of man. Hot damn, is this gonna turn out great! Now where'd I put the rest of that glue?"?

I want to know who that guy is. I don't want to hurt the guy, though, as "Terminator Salvation" isn't actually all that bad of a movie. I just want to make him feel the same sense of disappointment I felt when I realized that, no, this installment in the series wasn't going to be any better than the last one. (In fact, it's just a tick worse.)

The first two "Terminator" films, as directed by James Cameron (who's, you know, an actual filmmaker, as opposed to a two-bit music video director who decided he wanted to play grown-up - I'm looking at you, McG), were driven by tight plots and efficient characterizations established by lean, memorable dialogue exchanges. They were grand spectacles of action filmmaking - especially the still-terrifying original - and inspired legions of imitators. Unfortunately, among those imitators is this fourth installment, which substitutes a constant barrage of often weightless action for any semblance of a plot, and far too frequently relies on the crutch of recycled quotes and/or scenarios used for comic effect. (Yes, Christian Bale's futuristic savior John Connor does actually deliver the line, "I'll be back." Ugh.)

Half of the film doesn't even deal with the Connor-centric storyline that we've been following for three movies, and instead focuses on the wanderings of Marcus (Sam Worthington, who's gotten some mighty big praise for such a stilted, "blah" performance), a former death row con who donated his body to science before Judgment Day occurred, and awakens 15 years later to find himself in a post-apocalyptic future where his only friends are a mute child and an eager teen named Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin, also seen recently as Chekov in "Star Trek").

Of course, Reese will grow up to be the man who goes back in time and becomes John Connor's father, so the other half of the story deals with Connor's attempts to locate and protect his past-future-whatever daddy. And that other half is pretty much Bale running around yelling, "Kyle Reese?! Kyle Reese?! Are you Kyle Reese?!" in between taking part in massive fights against the marauding killer machines. When the two story threads overlap, and Marcus is revealed by Connor to be an elaborate half-human terminator presumably programmed to kill him, the film should come to life, but instead it just continues to putt along to a predictable conclusion that smacks of "The Matrix Reloaded," and not in a good way.

So why the two stars? Well, as much as I like to moan and complain, I actually did find myself enjoying certain parts of the film. And by "certain parts," I mean a couple of cool action scenes that showed me some huge, awesome-looking killer robots I haven't seen before, and one fight sequence near the end that brings back an old foe for one final showdown with Connor. The movie should have completely fallen apart at this point, but the tone is perfect and the effects are surprisingly decent, paving the way for a genuinely rousing and fairly believable bit of nostalgia that, for once, hits right home.

Jason Wallis is a News-Sentinel copy editor. He can be reached at jasonwallis@comcast.net.

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