Terminator 3

Gen-X-Reviews-Terminator-3The machine rises, then falls. Something clicks inside its belly as it resets itself. Then it rises again. And falls.

The new Terminator film feels less like a horrific prophecy than a complex wind-up toy. Only Arnold Schwarzenegger returns for the third installment of the Terminator franchise, but the codes and conventions of the first two films have solidified around this film so completely that nothing alive can escape it.

The new film takes place 10 years after Terminator II. John Connor (Nick Stahl) has become a drifter, living on the margins of society, believing that the danger of “Judgment Day” has passed. He has exacted his early adulthood “off the grid,” unplugged, riding his vintage Britain motorbike along pathways that never converge with the information highway, afraid of somehow being pulled back into his life.

Connor helped avert the future in T2, but this act has alienated him from any sense of purpose or destiny. He has lost some integral part of himself without the robot war and the extermination of countless human beings to contend with, and as a young man tortured by freedom he appears to have done little. Dropping out of society and severing his links to the past, he believes himself to be exempt from the prophecy that has haunted him since before his birth, but he’s wrong.

The future is out there, somewhere, searching for him. Every attempt that he makes to remove himself from the forces of history pull him in closer, and he is never so much subject of his destiny than when he thinks he is free. At this point the machine resets itself and history sucks him back in, illustrating that time really runs in only one direction.

He breaks into a veterinary clinic when he crashes his bike, apparently looking for painkillers. What he discovers instead is that history cannot be postponed. Kate Brewster (Claire Danes) is a doctor at the clinic and responds to an emergency call only to find Connor. Nothing happens without purpose in the Terminator world, and we discover Kate and Connor are destined to fight the machine hordes together.

Enter: Terminator number one (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and T-X (Kristanna Loken). The terminators are, of course, poised to fight over a future that should by now be obvious. This is the third time machines have been sent through time to change history and the third time the future has proven to be beyond manipulation. If my calculator reasoned this poorly I’d bring it back to Radio Shack, but these robots don’t seem to be designed to compute statistics.

Machine power is on display throughout the film. Doublewide trucks tear through the street, cop cars smash into buildings, high-voltage wires spark. I wouldn’t trust a toaster oven in that reality. The terminators represent two kinds of machines. Schwarzenegger’s terminator is a big old SUV of a hulk, something you’d take off road or load wood into while T-X (or the Terminatrix) is a Barbie doll gone bad: Smooth, efficient, oddly reptilian, she is a Lexus version of Stephen King’s Christine.  
Despite the fact that the special effects are very good, there’s little novelty in this film.

Schwarzenegger’s terminator look has become dated, somehow quaintly retro, and the movie plays with our expectations as to how he should look. At a convenience store he looks for sunglasses, trying on several outlandish pairs before settling on his trademarked rims.
The film’s snappy one-liners are reminiscent of the earlier films and serve as purely comic effect. “She came baaack,” Schwarzenegger growls at one point, sounding a little too much like a Saturday Night Live skit.

And although Schwarzenegger is as formidable as ever, there’s something odd in his portrayal. Solid and brick-like, he seems, however, to have picked up some nasty habits as a B actor. He’s no longer pure body, no longer the opaque block of muscle he once was. Back then his poor acting – or his total inability to act – worked in his favor. He genuinely seemed to be incapable of conveying human expressions.

Now, however, he can act – poorly. He can’t help but show emotion, to bring a human dimension to the character. The result is uncannily like Ronald Reagan pretending to be president of the United States, reading off a teleprompter, his voice edged with artificial drama. Schwarzenegger’s just not good or bad enough to make the role work anymore.

Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines is less a fully developed movie than a metallic echo of a good idea; a mirage of steel and special effects; something true turned into the quality of Hamburg.


Bruce Almighty

Gen-X-Reviews-Bruce-Almighty-2003Omnipresence is divine boredom.

Can you imagine knowing how every story will end, sensing the punch line of every joke, envisioning every potentiality snaking back into its inevitable collapse? It must be like having your television stuck on Nick at Nite, watching endless reruns of old favorites.

Jim Carrey’s new film Bruce Almighty is sort of like this. A formula film of the lowest order, there isn’t one surprising or novel moment in this dismal comedy. The instant you meet television reporter Bruce Nolan (Carrey) you know that he will have to learn important life lessons before you will be allowed to leave the theatre. He will probably lose his lovely, innocent girlfriend Grace (played insipidly by Jennifer Aniston) and have to sacrifice an unearned success, and in the end he will rediscover the value of ordinary life.

Knowing Carrey, you might foretell correctly that he will at some point touch his fanny naughtily, act as though his bones were made of jelly, and perform other acts of purely predictable physical comedy. You might stutter for a second under the mistaken hope that Aniston’s character will shake things up a little, but in the end everybody serves the tired plot in this sort of assembly-line film. Indeed, one could probably duplicate the entire movie based on nothing more than the trailers.

Being god-like in our foreknowledge, we might look forward to the possibility that the onscreen acting would make up for the plot shortcomings. We have seen what Aniston has done with an ordinary role in last year’s The Good Girl and Carrey can occasionally surprise us with his range of character acting, so even a deity may hope for a little mysterious chemistry in the film, the wonder that unexpectedly occurs between actors on occasion.

But of course it isn’t possible for a god to be disappointed, only bored, and he’d know long before their opening scene together that Carrey and Aniston were not interested in giving their best for Bruce Almighty. He would see into their hearts and uncover their motives for creating cinematic SPAM of this sort – money – and resist the temptation to be drawn into the film waiting for the actors to live up to their potential.

A god would see the movie’s transparencies even before we do. He would know that Nolan is a big baby egoist upset that he was stuck in the features department of a local Buffalo television station. He would see the inevitable conflicts caused by Nolan’s dissatisfaction with doing home-town stories; would predict the fateful day the character curses the lord after a particularly bad episode at work; and would see Morgan Freeman, doing the worst impression of god ever, challenge Bruce to take over and see if he could do a better job.

God must have infinite patience for these sorts of things, being that he is in the unique position of seeing them from all spaces and times.

So he might sit in the dark theatre and sigh as Carrey turns his face into silly putty or try to catch up on some sleep when Grace is mistaken into thinking Bruce is proposing when he’s really just talking about himself. He might frown at the Three’s Company-style misunderstanding that leads to the predestined couple’s break-up or yawn at their trite reconciliation.

I wonder what god would think of Morgan Freeman’s uninspiring portrayal? What would he think of the speech where Freeman says that the real heroes are the ordinary folks paying their taxes, good, law-abiding members of society? I expect this might strike the lord as a touch simplistic and over-general, but maybe god is a republican after all.

God might see the irony in an unoriginal movie about a character lacking the imagination to use divine powers in interesting ways. After all, if we’re suppose to see Nolan as wasting his power, what does this say about filmmakers who can’t develop more interesting characters or plot development? Aren’t they as uncreative and dull as the reality they create to poke fun at?

The lord might shake his head in good nature at the dishonest effort that was put into the film, but I don’t think he would judge it as a moral transgression. Stupid, yes, and sometimes mildly offensive, but not evil. I’m sure he’s had to sit through even worse films in the past, present or future. Since he exists in all dimensions of the eternal, he might not conceive of Bruce Almighty as a waste of time, but I do.

If it’s anything like seeing Bruce Almighty, I think being god would be a real drag.

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