Ladies and gentlemen…may we present the next governor of the great state of California…
Whether the filmmakers wanted a generically bloated summer blockbuster or not, 'T3' is the year's most expensive B-movie

Around about 30 seconds into T3, the first blatant product placement shot appeared. (A bottle of Budweiser, for those keeping score at home.) Shortly afterward, the film's new star (the T-X, played by Kristanna Loken) materialized in a surprisingly cheesy bit of special effects work that made a melting plastic mannequin look about as much like the real thing as the real melting mannequin heads in Raiders of the Lost Ark looked like human beings. Loken strode across the street, the R-rated movie allowing a PG-13 view of her naked body. (In a flick full of bombs and blood, it would be so wrong to see a breast? Arnold shows his plenty.) Moments later, something even more unexpected occurred.

Heaven help me, I started to enjoy myself.

Maybe it was when the T-X was able to speak the chirp-and-static language of modems, using a cell phone to download mission information without the aid of a laptop. Maybe it was when the old familiar Terminator model appeared and a naked Arnold Schwarzenegger walked into a night club on Ladies' Night, demanding that a stripper remove his leather get-up and being told to have some patience.

Dir. Jonathan Mostow; writ. John D. Brancato & Michael Ferris; feat. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Nick Stahl, Claire Danes, Kristanna Loken, David Andrews, Mark Famiglietti (R)
Mainly the epiphany took place when it became clear that, whether the filmmakers wanted a generically bloated summer blockbuster or not, they actually made the year's most expensive B-movie; and that despite the glossy menace that the publicity department obviously wanted to promote, the film could not avoid its own inherently pulpy personality. With its corny jokes, unashamed but unshowy melodrama, and vaguely unfashionable cinematic style (every so often, something falls to the floor in slow motion), T3 shares the spirit of the original film - that goofy genre flick that nobody in his right mind would have expected to be so enduring.

That's not to say that this film's action sequences look cheap. An early chase scene, in fact, is hyperbolically huge, with our heroes battered by remote-controlled police cars and chased by a block-long crane truck - when the good guys drive off onto the sidewalk where they are protected by a row of parked cars, the truck naturally points its crane out at them, demolishing a few dozen unhappy cars and more than one building. Then Arnie turns the tables with a very clever maneuver that shouldn't be spoiled here.

The film's action is more traditional than moviegoers might expect. Unlike Terminator 2, this film is not a quantum leap in computer-generated effects; although there are a few "gee whiz" moments involving the new T-X, most of the running time involves old-fashioned armaments - those images of a marching army of polished-chrome robots take place in a dream sequence and no place else, despite the somewhat misleading title Rise of the Machines.

And that's the way it should be in this film, whose mission is more to show that the apocalypse is inevitable than to depict its impact. You heard that right - T3's ending is only the beginning. In the old days, an unresolved conclusion like this would be a nice tweak to set a sci-fi tale apart from its peers; these days, it's the promise of another sequel. If pre-production hasn't started on T4, it's only because the producers are trying to convince Schwarzenegger that he could fit some principal photography in his off-hours as Governor of California.

Arnold leads members of the California state assembly to fiscal safety.
But Arnie should probably bow out of another Terminator and focus on paving more L.A. freeways for Humvees - there's no way he could top this performance. Here, Ahnuld gives himself fully to campiness, allowing his robotic self to undergo all manner of humiliation: from Bootsy Collins sunglasses to such dated catchphrases as "talk to the hand." (While the one-liners are gleefully ridiculous, the biggest laughs come toward the end, when the Austrian musclehead tries to act.)

In a summer where sci-fi action films try too hard to prove their philosophical credentials, and fluffy popcorn films can't even get flaky fun right, T3's cheap thrills hit the spot. Who knows if the film's producers - who pushed their luck by making this installment against series creator James Cameron's wishes - will be able to follow it up with a sequel that doesn't spoil the fun. But for this year at least, it's a pleasure to see our favorite murderous cyborg make good on that worn-out promise, "I'll be back." •

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