Sequels are the Double Stufs of cinema: They come off the assembly line padded with much, much more of the exact goo you remember from the original. Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines may not begin, à la Rocky II, with a 10-minute montage of the highlights of the prior film, but much of the movie still plays like a greatest-hits reel. Even if the template that James Cameron fashioned in Terminator 2: Judgment Day—of vehicular chases, straight-faced Schwarzeneggerian comedy, and morphing villainy—hasn’t been updated for the series’ third installment, there are still a few cosmetic changes. This time around, the freeway chase has a crane; Ah-nold says—I can’t believe I’m not kidding—”Talk to the hand”; and, that’s right, the bad guy is a beautiful yet deadly fembot, the T-X. While this Terminatrix in a red-leather catsuit (Kristanna Loken) shrugs off bullets as if they were spitballs, the human resistance continues its tradition of sending the venerably crappy, leather-loving Model 101 (Schwarzenegger) to protect future resistance leader John Connor (Nick Stahl). Skynet’s machines, undeterred by the multi-Terminator meltdown that ended T2, are approaching self-awareness, and with war on the horizon, Connor and future lieutenant Kate Brewster (Claire Danes) have to stay alive, or else a lot of Johnny Five-looking things will eventually rule the world. This impending holocaust seems more like a plot point than a catastrophe, though. Without the wild-eyed Pollyannaism of Sarah Connor (John’s mother has died of leukemia) or the percussion-heavy T2 score, pick-a-director Jonathan Mostow (U-571) can’t find a way to give T3 gravitas. Stahl, who looks as if he should be covered with fur, and Danes, who plays a mild-mannered veterinarian, are pretty much ciphers, as blank-eyed as their robotic co-stars. Even so, it’s the shiny new T-X that is T3’s biggest problem: She may come equipped with all the latest gadgetry, but she’s essentially the shape-shifting, motorcycle-cop-mimicking T-1000 of T2, only with frosted hair. Chalk that up to Mostow’s attempt to make up for his lack of bona fides with a sycophantic dedication to formula—even the stunts are rote and hollow, if nicely staged. (The destruction of a glass building with a crane arm is typically well-done but pointless.) Still, no one can ruin the perpetual joy of Arnold. Hearing him spout staccato computer jargon and pithy one-liners—”I’ll drive” and “Don’t do that” are standouts—and watching him come back from the dead couldn’t possibly get old: This is the one-note role Schwarzenegger was born to play. Too bad his is the only note here worth hearing. —Josh Levin

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