Adventure reloaded

Action is the name of the game this weekend, from the machine-dominated 'T3' to a seafaring journey in 'Sinbad.'

Fourth of July celebrations are about fireworks, loud noises, and rockets' red glare, so it's fitting that adventure is the main movie theme of this holiday weekend.

Sounding off loudest is Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, continuing a Hollywood franchise so popular that folks know the new installment as just "T3," its nickname. Providing contrast is Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas, an animation with superstar Brad Pitt providing the title character's voice.

What is it about machines that has science-fiction aficionados so riled up these days? They're the villains in the "Matrix" movies, and now they pop up in the "T3" subtitle too. It doesn't take a psychologist to tell there's anxiety brewing in contemporary culture over the role of our mechanical, electronic, and cybernetic toys.

Are they the servants they're supposed to be, or are they on the verge of ruling us more than we rule them?

So far my computer lets me type sentences like that without talking back. But then, I'm just a film critic, not a heroic young hacker with a crucial role to play in the looming war between humans and gizmos. In other words, I'm not John Connor and my mother wasn't Sarah Connor, the late heroine of the previous "Terminator" chapters.

John poses such a threat to ultimate victory of the machines that they send a new kind of Terminator (or Terminatrix, since she's female) back in time with orders to, well, terminate him before he can damage their cause.

Aware of all this, the antimachine resistance movement sends its own Terminator back from the future to protect John from her murderous machinations. He's all man - so much so that only Arnold Schwarzenegger could play him. Not surprisingly, Mr. Schwarzenegger plays him to the hilt, complete with the bulging biceps, deadpan delivery, and Hulk-like implacability that have made him one of pop culture's indestructible icons.

If none of this seems particularly fresh, you're right. "T3" is strikingly similar to "T2" and "T," reflecting Hollywood's reluctance to tamper with a hit series.

The only real novelty this time is the gender twist added to the central conflict, with a male hero menaced by a female android. Schwarzenegger's patented humor has been toned down a bit, as well. Fans waiting to guffaw at lines like "Hasta la vista, baby" will have to content themselves with a conspicuously wan replay of that famous wisecrack.

In other respects, "T3" delivers what it's supposed to. Nick Stahl and Claire Danes give likable performances as John and his closest human companion.

Kristanna Loken is formidable as the Terminatrix, whose hands turn into scary weapons. Suspense specialist Jonathan Mostow keeps the story moving just fast enough to keep you from realizing how nonsensical it is. And the "Matrix" series will have to reload once again before it surpasses the retina-bending special effects unveiled here.

"Sinbad" is a more restrained entertainment, and in many ways a more grown-up one, even though it's an animation aimed at younger audiences.

The hero starts the story as a rascal and a rogue, aiming to steal the sacred Book of Peace from its guardian, Proteus, who's also Sinbad's oldest pal. Sinbad's scheme doesn't work but he's accused of the theft anyway, and Proteus will pay with his life if the invaluable volume isn't returned. True to his lackadaisical nature, Sinbad heads for a vacation in the tropics. But friends and foes have other plans for him. One is Proteus's girlfriend Marina, a stowaway on Sinbad's ship who won't rest until her fiancé is exonerated. Another is Eris, the goddess of chaos, who wants to get her own hands on the sought-after tome.

Unlike the ingenious "Finding Nemo," which uses computerized cartooning with a 3-D look, "Sinbad" falls back on the traditional hand-drawn style, using computer power for enhancing images rather than generating them from the get-go.

Even more traditional are the physical traits of its main characters, who tend toward the stolidly square-jawed and curvaceously buxom, all in keeping with the oldest conventions of feature animation.

The story may be too slow and complicated for the youngest moviegoers.

At the preview I went to, though, kids responded with rapturous applause when the Book of Peace found its rightful place and Sinbad sailed away into a far less rascally future. Maybe he'll even run across Nemo as he plies the seven seas.

Now that would be a sequel worth waiting for!

'Terminator 3,' rated R, contains violence. 'Sinbad,' rated PG, contains mild violence and sensuality.

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