Growing up fatherless is hard, but it can't be anywhere near as difficult as growing up burdened with the knowledge that you'll one day become humanity's savior—after an apocalyptic war resulting in billions of deaths. Factor in periodic confrontations with deadly cyborgs from the future sent to kill you, and it only gets tougher. With such a heavy load to bear, it's no wonder that messiah-to-be Nick Stahl meets future partner Claire Danes while breaking into her animal clinic to numb his pain with veterinary drugs. In a neat bit of irony, the supremely gifted Stahl (Bully, In The Bedroom) replaces troubled Terminator 2 star Edward Furlong, who was apparently deemed too wild, self-destructive, and drugged up to play a wild, self-destructive, drugged-up drifter. Furlong isn't the only series veteran missing. Co-star Linda Hamilton and director James Cameron left after the stellar second installment, taking most of the franchise's emotional resonance and urgency with them. For Terminator 3, Breakdown director Jonathan Mostow takes over, and though his film falls short in many of the areas where Cameron's excelled, it mostly succeeds as an irreverent exercise in sly self-parody. Like Anthony Hopkins' Hannibal Lecter, Arnold Schwarzenegger's Terminator has been spoofed, ripped off, and paid homage far too often to retain much of its original menace. Refreshingly, Mostow and company seem to understand that, and smartly use him as a comic figure, a muscle-bound, monosyllabic killing machine who's part mercenary, part fortune teller, and part amateur psychiatrist. Comedy has never been Schwarzenegger's forte, but he's much funnier spoofing his signature role here than he was in, say, Junior. Terminator 3 finds his good cyborg once again squaring off against a more technologically advanced evil cyborg from the future, this time a foxy lady Terminator (newcomer Kristanna Loken) who's sort of like T2's shape-shifting Terminator as redesigned by the editors of Maxim. With her big eyes, stiff gait, and robotic voice, Loken suggests a cross between the ultimate sex doll and the little-girl robot from Small Wonder, only all grown up and ready to kill. Loken's character barely registers, the flashy action sequences are artfully crafted but generate little suspense, and there's a weird tonal clash between Schwarzenegger's lighthearted self-parody and Stahl's gravity. Still, Mostow displays a welcome light touch and a flair for big setpieces. The original Terminator was an overachieving low-budget B-movie that became an instant classic. T3, while far from a classic, is an overachieving, mercenary sequel that's short on thrills, but surprisingly long on laughs and surprises.
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