Ed reviews "Terminator Salvation" 

For the second time in less than a year, Christian Bale manages to become a supporting player in his own movie. He was the star of The Dark Knight, but Heath Ledger's Joker stole the show. In Terminator Salvation he tops the bill again, but the production is built around Australian actor Sam Worthington. While Bale stews, simmers and talks in that deep, menacing voice he used as Batman, Worthington gets all the juicy scenes, and does well with them.

In Terminator Salvation, the fourth installment of the man vs. intelligent machines series, the machines win. I'm not talking about the plot resolution; I'm talking about the structure of the film. The emphasis here is on slam-bang, bad-ass, noisy, classic-rock action, dude. The machines have no personality and, for the most part, neither do the humans. They shout, argue, attack and flee, but they're written so thinly that it doesn't matter much who lives or dies.

Imagine a boy smashing his action figures into each other. The kid has fun - he may be spinning grand tales in his head, or not. But an onlooker is unlikely to get emotionally involved in watching action figures being bashed together.

But wai, this is an action movie, so why am I yapping about emotional resonance? Here's why: In The Terminator, the action was cool, but you got invested in the film because you cared about Sarah Connor and her protector from the future, Kyle Reese. They were individuals with feelings, not action movie avatars. Hell, even the killer robot displayed enough attitude to make him interesting. In Terminator 2: Judgment Day, the action was way cool and the characters were even more developed. Sarah Connor, her teen-age son John and the reprogrammed Terminator mattered because they were brimming with personality (not so much the Terminator, but he tried). In Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines ... well, I barely even remember that movie, so let's forget it, like Terminator Salvation does.

Action isn't fun without people to care about, and the new rock 'em, sock 'em flick gives us only one: condemned murderer and organ donor Marcus Wright, as played by Sam Worthington. Worthington, who looks like a cross between Brothers and Sisters' Balthazar Getty and Southland's Shawn Hatosy, manages to show the conflicted soul within Marcus. He's interesting and so his fate matters. The cast also includes Moon Bloodgood, Helena Bonham Carter, Anton Yelchin (Chekov from Star Trek), Jadagrace, Bryce Dallas Howard, Common, Jane Alexander, Michael Ironside, but they all play figures, not people.

I haven't mentioned the plot because it's inconsequential. People want to get somewhere to save somebody and stop something bad from happening. There's your plot. Director McG (Joseph McGinty Nichol, who has been called McGee all of his life to avoid confusion with two relatives also named Joe) struggles to maintain the single-minded intensity of the first film. He keeps your eyes occupied with big fights against bleak post-apocalyptic backgrounds and a few of the action scenes are clever, but his attempts at wowing the viewer are undone by John Brancato and Michael Ferris' script, which apparently was dashed off in Screenplays 101.

At the sneak preview I attended, the packed house seemed involved throughout the 116-minute kablam-a-rama. There was scattered applause at the end and I heard one guy say, "That was awesome." As a simple bash 'em up summer action flick, Terminator Salvation is serviceable. As an heir to the first two films in the series, it is not.

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