A post-apocalyptic man vs. machine war movie, Terminator Salvation plays out like many a video game, its thin plot little more than an excuse to string together one action scene after another. And yet, for what it is it´s surprisingly well-handled. While this Terminator doesn´t hold a candle to the first two in the series, it´s at least on a par with the third.
This Schwarzenegger-less sequel begins in 2003, with death row convict Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington) signing over the rights to his corpse to Cyberdyne doctor Serena Kogan (Helena Bonham Carter). Flash-forward to 2018: the world has been taken over (and mostly destroyed) by machines. A small group of resistance fighters fights to preserve humanity, including Christ-like figure John Connor (Christian Bale), who plots an attack on the machine´s Skynet headquarters. Wright “wakes up” to discover the now-scorched earth in LA, and runs into Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin), the man who Connor will eventually send back in time to save his mother (and father Connor himself, as revealed in the previous films). They make their way to Connor and Skynet, meeting resistance fighter Blair Williams (Moon Bloodgood) along the way.
But the plot is just an excuse for mindless action, which includes chases on cars, trucks, motorcycles and planes, gunplay and hand-to-hand combat with the machine´s T-600 Terminators, giant “Transforminator” robots, aquatic snake-like bots, lots of explosions, and an appearance by the familiar T-800 Terminator, with a Schwarzenegger CGI cameo. And director McG, of Charlie´s Angels fame (or infamy) shows a surprisingly deft hand: using a steadicam and fluid editing, we never lose track of what´s going on in these scenes, something that occurs far too often in contemporary blockbusters.
Bale makes for a surprisingly bland Connor, presented here as an uncomfortable cross between Jesus Christ and Master Chief; the film takes for granted the fact that the Terminator series depends on his survival, and a rather unsympathetic characterization gives us little rooting interest in his fate. I half-thought this would lead to some unexpected conclusion, like the ballsy finale that saved Terminator 3, but no, this one plays it pretty safe.
Instead, the film belongs to Marcus Wright and his internal struggle with life and death, man and machine. Worthington is the heart of the film, and (despite occasionally slipping into his native Australian accent) he’s excellent, delivering a legitimate and empathetic action hero. Leading roles in this and James Cameron´s upcoming Avatar should make him a star.
Dialogue is consistently awful, and some of the acting is downright poor: Common as Connor´s right-hand man, Michael Ironside and Ivan G’Vera as resistance leaders. Others, like Jane Alexander and Bryce Dallas Howard (as Connor´s wife), have almost nothing to do despite notable screen time. But Yelchin makes for an effective Reese, the character played by Michael Biehn in the first film.
There are a lot of surface references to the previous Terminator films, characters and designs, lines of dialogue (“I´ll be back”) and music cues, but there´s almost none of the substance: the man vs. machine aesthetic plays out a lot closer to Michael Bay´s Transformers. Fans of the series will likely be disappointed by Terminator Salvation, but this is perfect fare for action aficionados.
An aptly-titled “bromance”, John Hamburg´s I Love You, Man combines a buddy picture with a romantic comedy and hits all the usual notes along the way. It doesn´t really work in either genre, but the film is genuinely likable: funny (in an offbeat way), sweet, and even gentle. Increasingly rare attributes in modern comedies.
Paul Rudd stars as real estate agent Peter Klaven, who proposes to his girlfriend Zooey (Rashida Jones) at the start of the film (she says yes). On the ride home, Zooey shares the good news with her friends (Jaime Pressly, Sarah Burns); friends whom she´s already shared intimate details about their relationship. Peter realizes something: he has no equivalent male friends, heck, he has no male friends at all outside of an antagonistic co-worker (Rob Huebel) and an aloof fencing partner. After talking with his mom (Jane Curtain), dad (J.K. Simmons) and gay brother (Adam Sandberg), he decides to get some friends. Who´s gonna be his best man? (I have no idea why his brother or even father couldn´t be his best man, and it´s something the film never touches on )
This sets up a number of awkward ‘dates´ with an obnoxious soccer fan (Joe Lo Truglio), a 90-year-old man (Murray Gershenz), and a homosexual (Thomas Lennon) who thinks he´s on an actual date and leaves Peter with a passionate kiss. But eventually Peter meets Sidney Fife (Jason Segel) at an open house – Lou Ferrigno´s house, with a statue of the Hulk star in the front yard – and the two form a bond. Fife is forward, open, and maybe a little crazy, but he´s a perfect friend, and brings out a new side in Peter.
I Love You, Man, is basically a romantic comedy, with the leads both male, and the romance replaced by a friendship. Its only problem is that it doesn´t work on those terms: we´re given all the genre clichés, argument, breakup, reunion, but we never have enough rooting interest in the relationship to care much about the outcome. Part of the problem is the premise, which sounds dumb, and, well, it is. These are two heterosexual guys. Their relationship shouldn´t follow well-worn rom-com formula. But when the film strays from the formula, it´s a rather affecting portrait of these two guys and the bond between them.
Rudd is quite funny as Peter, though he often feels restrained: there´s always something underneath his skin itching to get out. And when he does let loose, he still feels restrained. Segel is excellent as Fife; a slovenly beach bum who doesn´t clean up after his dog, there´s nothing in the script to suggest sympathy for this character, but we like him anyway. Supporting players are extremely well-cast, and account for a good number of the laughs here.
The humor in the film is mostly of the uncomfortable kind: awkward silences and embarrassing moments that shouldn´t be all that funny and wouldn´t be if they were happening to us. It´s an acquired taste; you´ll hear a lot of titters in the audience, the film provokes a reaction but we´re usually unsure of how we should confront the material.
Judd Apatow wasn´t involved with I Love You, Man, but the film is in the same ballpark as his recent comedies, Knocked Up and The 40-Year-Old Virgin, and the Apatow-produced Forgetting Sarah Marshall, which also starred Segel.