TERMINATOR 3: RISE OF THE MACHINES In the category of Completely Unnecessary Sequels That Were Clearly Made For The Sole Purpose Of Milking More Money Out Of Franchises That Were Already Adequately Wrapped Up, it's just possible that this might be the new king of the hill. Clearly, sights are adjusted southward for this belated follow-up to two excellent Terminator films helmed by James Cameron, but on its own terms, this isn't bad, even if it's occasionally too redundant for its own good. Cameron is somewhat missed behind the camera and Linda Hamilton (the real series star) is largely missed before it, but director Jonathan Mostow and a trio of scripters treat the property with respect and, in effect, don't screw it up the way that, say, Alien 3 and The Fly II soiled the intent of their notable predecessors. Arnold Schwarzenegger's back in "good Terminator" mode, playing another T-101 who's been reprogrammed to journey back in time to our present to protect future leader John Connor (Nick Stahl) from being killed by the female T-X (Kristanna Loken), the most sophisticated cyborg created in the future world. Some interesting plot developments and a smashing (in both senses of the word) chase scene can't quite erase the familiarity of it all (nor the fact that Loken's T-X isn't even as half as interesting as Robert Patrick's T-1000 from the second flick), but this is still a valiant effort by all concerned. 1/2
CHARLIE'S ANGELS: FULL THROTTLE One's enjoyment of Charlie's Angels will likely determine that same viewer's tolerance of Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle. This follow-up to that 2000 hit isn't so much a sequel as an extension -- if movies weren't so time- and cost-consuming, it'd be easy to picture a new Angels flick hitting the multiplexes on a weekly basis (in that respect, it emulates the 70s TV series on which it's based). Like its big-screen predecessor, this new T&Angels adventure features countless scenes that serve as nothing more than mini-vanity projects for its three lovely leads (Cameron Diaz as giggly party girl Natalie, Drew Barrymore as street-smart riot grrl Dylan, and Lucy Liu as sophisticated smart girl Alex), reams of smarmy double entendres that are sure to elicit as many groans as giggles, and several stunt-heavy, death-defying feats that are simply absurd beyond reason. But so what? Indefensible as it may be on a hoity-toity level, this works more often than not because of the infectious atmosphere generated by its leading ladies as well as returning director McG. I've never been a fan of Demi Moore, so her much ballyhooed "comeback" in this picture (as a former Angel gone bad) means nothing to me, and the unfortunate reliance on smutty humor brings it perilously close to Austin Powers territory. But let's face it: When our heroines are disguised as welders at one point, who doesn't want to hear Irene Cara's Flashdance... What A Feeling playing in the background? 1/2
FINDING NEMO As far as trivial pursuits go, ranking the Pixar/Disney animated efforts seems as futile an exercise as ranking favorite Beatles tunes: Because the high level of consistency between them is so comparable, we're basically talking about slight degrees of separation rather than quantum leaps in quality. In that regard, expect Finding Nemo to be hailed by many as Pixar's best movie to date while leading just as many -- myself included -- to deem it a delightful summer flick that still falls short of being an instant classic (on my scale, it's better than A Bug's Life but below Monsters, Inc. and the Toy Story twofer). Its animation is truly stunning, awash in a dazzling array of colors, and the storyline is a sturdy one, centering on the efforts of timid clown fish Marlin (voiced by Albert Brooks) to rescue his son Nemo (Alexander Gould) from an aquarium. But for all its visual splendor and great gags, this falls short of most Pixar films primarily because too many characters seem more like "types" than unique individuals. What's more, two specific creations -- a blue tang named Dory (Ellen DeGeneres) and Crush, a surfer-dude turtle voiced by director Andrew Stanton -- are as likely to alienate viewers as envelop them. (Crush actually emerged as my fave, but Dory's scatter-brained routine wore me down.) Still, it's downright curmudgeonly to remain focused on the negatives when the rest of the picture is saturated with invention and wit.
HOLLYWOOD HOMICIDE A few weeks ago when The Matrix Reloaded opened, much of the talk centered around the highway chase sequence that lasts a full 15 minutes. But that set piece is mere child's play when compared to the climactic chase that closes Hollywood Homicide: This one lasts a full three hours. Or so it seems. Truth be told, I can't pinpoint exactly how long this interminable sequence goes on, because during that portion of this dreadful action-comedy, my brain was so numb that even a lobotomy would have seemed like a welcome diversion. Charitable moviegoers -- and I use "charitable" to the extent that Mother Teresa comparisons are in order -- might describe this disaster as the perfect popcorn picture, but even that's provided you like your bag filled with burnt pieces and unpopped kernels. Harrison Ford (tired and bored) and Josh Hartnett (bland and boring) play the usual mismatched cops -- one's old and cranky, the other young and sensitive -- who spend as much time pursuing outside interests (real estate and acting, respectively) as they do investigating the slayings of four rappers. Writer-director Ron Shelton, a long way from the career high point of Bull Durham, has crammed this picture with the sort of forced comedy generally found in bad Nora Ephron movies, while the action sequences prove to be clumsily staged and rarely exciting. Hartnett is a Next Big Thing who deserves to become a Where Are They Now?; as for Ford, there's simply no way to defend his sell-out choices anymore.