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Terminator 3

So terminate, already

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For a few happy minutes at the beginning of Terminator 3, there's something witty going on. These minutes commence with the appearance of the villain, a time-traveling robot built roughly in the form of a female underwear model. But it's not just that the TX (Kristanna Loken) has a pleasing appearance. It's also where she first appears: in a mannequin-filled shop window on Rodeo Drive.

Naked, she dons the designer duds of an unfortunate woman to whom her only words are, "I like your car." Moments later -- having just given herself an instant boob job in mimicry of a nearby lingerie billboard -- TX tells a similarly doomed cop, "I like your gun." Our TX, it seems, is an acquisitive little thing: a dyed-in-the-circuits shopaholic swathed in chic red leather and pointy-toed pumps. I was thinking director Jonathan Mostow might spark this third dip into the science-fiction franchise with a subplot about a merciless robot assassin from the future who, following a series of confrontations with candy-coated consumer culture, trashes Los Angeles in a fury after climactically maxing out her VISA.

He doesn't. True, Loken's blonde hair scarcely gets mussed, nor her smashing outfit wrinkled, as she goes hand-to-hand with the T-1 robot (Arnold Schwarzenegger) who's playing bodyguard to John Connor (Nick Stahl), the kid destined to lead mankind's resistance against its machine oppressors in the future both robots call home. And TX's signature accessory is a sort of pop-up index-finger drill she wields like a custom-manicured nail, using it to gain remote control over all kinds of machines. T-1, by contrast, materializes in the desert primeval; guess he's the nature-boy robot.

But Terminator 3 (subtitled Rise of the Machines) doesn't have satire in mind so much as reheating a by-now familiar narrative, with a side order of twice-warmed brainteasers about whether one can change the future by knowing it. (Has any culture besides ours so frequently pondered this moot point?) The film is, in a word, boring; even the humor depends on Schwarzeneggerian recyclings of dialogue from 1984's The Terminator and its 1991 sequel.

The plot involves an artificial intelligence plotting world domination, launching nuclear war via an automated national-defense program; instead of concluding, Terminator 3 just sets the table for yet another sequel. And remember, no movie with a female villain is complete until somebody screams, "Die, you bitch!"

Stahl and Claire Danes, as his reluctant sidekick, are good enough to almost make you care. But such a film's raison d'etre is its action, and while there's a certain Wile E. Coyote amusement to all the digital mayhem, the lengthy fights and other set pieces feel like they were manufactured on the same assembly line that stamped out its robot antagonists.

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