The voice-over narration in the name of John Connor offers plodding exposition more flat-footed than the stride of the Terminator himself. Consider the movie’s risible concluding line: “All I know is what The Terminator taught me. Never stop fighting. And I never will. The battle has just begun.”

Fortunately at that point the movie has just ended. Director Jonathan Mastow (who brought the same unfussy if unimaginative competence to his prior film, the submarine drama “U-571”) steps in effectively for James Cameron, who now assumes that killer robots from the future count as unworthy of his Titanic gifts.

This latest terminator, however, makes the most of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s far more limited talents as well as his compelling political situation. If the film had tuned out to be a flat out disaster (it’s far from it) it might have served to deflate his upcoming campaign. Had it proven itself a critical darling and another sci-fi masterpiece (not a chance) the star would have faced intense pressure to keep his movie career going strong. This middle-of-the-road achievement, in other words, means that his acting status isn’t too cold, and it’s not too hot. When it comes to a potential leap into politics, it’s just right: like Ronald Reagan in 1966,

Schwarzenegger faces fading but respectable stardom, and may well appear next in a yet-to be-scripted melodrama “The Rise of the (Political) Machine.”

Rated R, for science fiction violence, brief partial nudity – but no more disturbing for even young teenagers than any number of recent PG-13 movies. TWO AND A HALF STARS.


Michael Medved hosts a nationally syndicated daily radio show focusing on the intersection of politics and pop culture.  He's the author of eight non-fiction books, was co-host for 12 years on "Sneak Previews" on PBS, and is the former Chief Film Critic for the New York Post.