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Tuesday, January 27, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 27.0° F  Fog/Mist
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Terminator Salvation: No fun, no soul
Fourth film in franchise is an uninspired noise machine
Darn those killer cyborgs.
Darn those killer cyborgs.

Let's talk about names. Character names, to be specific. As much of a rabid fan of the first two Terminator films as I am, I have always been bewildered by James Cameron's inexplicable saddling of the potential savior of all mankind with the brown-envelope-bland moniker of "John Connor." It's akin to calling Bruce Wayne "Tom Smith," or having to refer to Arnold Schwarzenegger (now there's a name for you) as "Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger." There's zero, zip, nada panache; it just doesn't have the requisite hero ring to it. John Connor sounds like the name of a high school gym teacher.

The wiry, wily Connor (Christian Bale), who, in the equally ill-titled Terminator Salvation, is on a mission to locate and protect the life of his future father, Kyle Reese, is a model of post-nuclear industriousness, commanding a truly ragtag global resistance (via short-wave radio) against the self-aware machines of SkyNet and their killer cyborgs, the Terminators. (At this point in the apocalyptic, time-traveling, man vs. machine mythos of the franchise, the year is 2018, and the parent is roughly half his son's age.)

Connor's got his grimy mitts full. But the name thing still rankles - and it can be extended to the director of Terminator Salvation: McG. The nickname (I assume it is a nickname) smacks of unintentional, comic mediocrity, as in McDonald's, McJob, McHammer, et al. McG previously helmed the wiseass-fun Charlie's Angels in 2000 and hasn't done anything for my adrenaline centers since then.

He stages action sequences with grand aplomb, though, and in this, at least, Terminator Salvation is worth its admission price...but only just (and it'll help if you slam a few sucrose-infused "Apocalyptic Ice Slurpees" - the film's tie-in with the venerable 7-Eleven summertime sugar bomb - in advance of taking your seat). There's a great sequence - the only great sequence, come to think of it - wherein a hulking, three-story, Transformer-esque Terminator tears apart an abandoned roadside gas station (and, ha-ha, former 7-Eleven) that generates a real frisson.

But it's pure CGI, and, when the dust fades, it still can't hold a candle to the stop-motion and very endearing goofiness of Stuart Gordon's 1990 Robot Jox. And it never even comes close to the truly unforgettable sequence in Stanley Kramer's It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, World in which an enraged Jonathan Winters demolishes a very similar human outpost while trying to terminate Phil Silvers and Buddy Hackett. Now that's entertainment.

Terminator Salvation is terrifically dull, full of ear-searing sound design and much yakkity-yakking about the fate of humanity, but entirely lacking any sort of soul or sense of good old summer matinee fun. The film is just like its machines, which, by the end of McG's McBlockbuster, deserve to win their war against humanity, if only to curtail, once and for all, uninspired and inhumanly mechanistic filmmaking such as this.

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