film reporter


The latest chapter in the successful cyborg series following 2003's "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines" — and the first sans Schwarzenegger —"Terminator Salvation" doesn't skimp on all that crunching heavy metal.

But while incoming director McG (the "Charlie's Angels" movies) certainly gets a rise out of the machinery in the post-apocalyptic thriller, there's little sign of life where the flatly executed human component is concerned.

The terminally sullen results are unlikely to hurt the picture's opening holiday weekend given the presence of last summer's boxoffice king, Christian Bale, but its total domestic take will fall a lot closer in line with "Terminator 3's" $150.3 million than those gargantuan "Dark Knight" numbers reaped by Warner Bros.

Columbia is handling the film in most international territories.

Taking place in 2018, or 14 years after the dreaded Judgment Day has occurred, "Salvation" finds armies of Skynet Terminators patrolling the bombed-out remains of the country, searching for the odd pockets of human survivors who managed to survive the blasts.

Among the living, of course, is John Connor (Bale), who despite his uncertainties seems well on his way to becoming the official leader of the Resistance.

He's far less certain about the intentions of Marcus Wright (Australian Sam Worthington), a death-row inmate-turned-organ donor who appears willing to help him track down a teenager named Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin), who of course is supposed to grow up to become John's father.

Nevertheless, the two form an uneasy alliance.

Although McG manages to keep the machinery humming 18 years after James Cameron's "Judgment Day" and its liquid metal raised the F/X stakes considerably, anchoring it in any sort of satisfying dramatic context is another story.

And the one provided by "Rise of the Machines" scripters John Brancato and Michael Ferris (curiously there's no mention of original character creators Cameron and Gale Anne Hurd) fails to give Bale and Worthington much opportunity to stand out from all the monochromatic rubble.

In Arnold's absence, an important ingredient of the "Terminator" iconography — namely, the fun factor — is in short supply. Apparently sensing the deficiency, the filmmakers have found a couple of ways to pay homage, both in terms of line callbacks and through the magic of special effects.

But at the end of the day, despite the still-potent landscape provided by cinematographer Shane Hurlbut, production designer Martin Laing and visual effects supervisor Charles Gibson — the film is dedicated to the late Stan Winston, who designed the first T-800 — and that rumbling, propulsive Danny Elfman score, an inescapable truth remains: It's just not the same without the Governator. (partialdiff)