Reviewed by Maitland McDonagh

Picking up some 10 years after the previous film left off, this stripped-down, intelligently conceived follow-up is a respectable conclusion to the TERMINATOR trilogy. The apocalyptic future envisioned in THE TERMINATOR (1984), in which survivors of a nuclear war launched by sentient machines battle ever-more sophisticated killer robots, was apparently averted in TERMINATOR 2 (1991). But John Connor, now a gloomy young man (Nick Stahl, taking over Edward Furlong's T2 role), is so traumatized by his late mother's lifelong exhortations that he's destined to lead the anti-machine resistance that he's haunted by constant nightmares of nuclear war and killer robots. He lives "off the grid," without ties to anyone or anything that might allow machine assassins to pinpoint his whereabouts and return through time to kill him. John's fears turn out to be well founded: Two naked robo-killers soon arrive simultaneously in the Los Angeles area. The first, a liquid-metal T-X terminator (Kristanna Loken), brutally commandeers a skin-tight, red-leather catsuit and Lexus convertible from a stylish good Samaritan who doesn't live long enough to regret her assumption that the nude woman striding her way is a crime victim rather than a murderous cyborg. Since John Connor has evaded the future machines' radar, they've sent the T-X to kill his less cautious lieutenants-to-be, a task she sets about completing with alarming efficiency. The second terminator is a battered T-101 (the suitably weathered Arnold Schwarzenegger) sent to protect John; in one of the film's slyer gags, he acquires his macho-man leathers from a male stripper. Meanwhile, archetypal girl-next-door Kate Brewster (Claire Danes) and her thoroughly expendable fiance (Mark Famiglietti) are setting up their wedding registry. "I hate machines!" she giggles prophetically as a hand-held scanner misbehaves. Necessary plot contrivances unite Kate and John at a veterinary clinic where, amidst escalating terminator mayhem, they discover that they were junior-high classmates. Coincidence? Not in the third installment of a series driven by issues of destiny and the immutable weight of future responsibility, especially since Kate's adored and adoring father (David Andrews) runs the military research project that developed Skynet, the sentient computer network poised to start the hellish machine war on mankind. Director Jonathan Moscow and screenwriters John Brancato and Michael Ferris pack the film with muscular action sequences, but the human factor provided by Linda Hamilton's Sarah Connor is sorely missed. Her transformation from hash-house waitress to half-mad "mother of the future" swung the first two films' balance from mechanical explosions, vehicular mayhem and gunfights to poignantly human concerns. Game though they are, Stahl and Danes can't fill her combat boots.