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Photograph by Richard Foreman
TALK TO THE METAL HAND: Christian Bale doesn't care to test his grip with a mechanical claw in 'Terminator: Salvation.'

Robot Hell

'Terminator: Salvation': If he tries long enough, maybe John Connor can finally get it right

By Richard von Busack

ON THE LEVEL of sound effects, Terminator: Salvation is impressive. Here's a preview of the stomach-twisting, skeleton-rattling subsonics that are supposedly going to be used as police and military weaponry. They certainly do a good job of making you sick. The soundscape has far more stretch than the ash- and dung-colored visualscape, in which the robots and the humans mix it up. The inhuman perfection of Schwarzenegger is referenced by computer sampling and manipulation, but nothing here is really as madly iconic as our governor's cinderblock face.

As usual, director McG uses green-screen as prodigiously as a Poverty Row filmmaker used rear projection. Christian Bale's John Connor stops, drops and rolls in front of flickering images of crashing helicopters and robot-killing machines; it probably looks killer on a Mac monitor or to the one-eyed, but on the big screen it looks ultraflat. McG populates the film with evil 'bots: steel lampreys that patrol the rivers, sentient motorcycles that cruise down the highways and 100-foot-tall man-harvesters that blare their teeth-hurting horns as they scoop up humans and shove them into cattle cars, off to some robot hell. Loved them in Spielberg's War of the Worlds—I suppose I liked the reprise here. Some of the robots have rotting human tissue still clinging to them; the idea is maybe that killer robot zombies are better than killer robots.

Into this post-atomic wasteland comes Mad Max's American cousin, Marcus (Sam Worthington), who stumbles across "the L.A. Resistance." It's a resistance of two: teenage Kyle (Anton Yelchin) and the boy's mute sidekick, Star (Jadagrace), a girl version of the feral kid from The Road Warrior. Kyle is going to be John "The Messiah" Connor's future parent. The trio are on the enemies list of the Skynet-operated robot-killing machines. Fortunately, the remnants of humanity have finally, after three movies, developed an off-switch for the killing machines. But this weapon must be tested by the once-and-future messiah Connor. Terminator: Salvation is closer to Transformers than the light-on-their-feet action movies in the early installments of the series. This is a ridiculously serious movie, right on up to the snicker-inducing Seven Pounds–ish finale. Human feelings elude the director so much you wonder if he has a little titanium in his skull. As Connor's mate, Kate, Bryce Dallas Howard is visibly pregnant. Therefore the film's one honey is the soldier Blair—Moon Bloodgood, "Rated No. 53 on Maxim's Hot 100 List!"

Connor puzzles over whether he can trust Marcus, the strangely battle-ready wanderer from the wasteland. The previews for this film blew the surprise, but let's say Connor's previous experiences should have made him quicker on the uptake. For that matter, how is it that Connor shows these "prophesized" messiah qualities? Is it just by making the you-are-special tapes he airs on the shortwave? (Good thing the bad machines apparently can't understand human speech, because Connor announces news and details of a major military offensive where the enemy could hear it.) Maybe they just made Connor messiah because he roars the loudest?

Movie Times  TERMINATOR SALVATION (PG-13; 115 min.), directed by McG, written by John D. Brancato and Michael Ferris, photographed by Shane Hurlbut and starring Christian Bale, Sam Worthington and Moon Bloodgood, opens May 21.

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