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MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

It's judgment day for the latest "Terminator" movie. "Terminator Salvation" is the fourth chapter in the series about killer machines, and it's the first not to star Arnold Schwarzenegger, who's been busy trying to terminate California's budget crisis.

Bob Mondello has a review.

BOB MONDELLO: You'd think the end of the world, which more or less happened in the third "Terminator" flick, would take some of the pressure off a series, but fans have still been fretting about this new movie. Christian Bale threw a temper tantrum on the set then got upstaged by his unknown co-star, Sam Worthington, and it did not exactly inspire confidence that the director's previous hits where both "Charlie's Angels" movies.

Of course, some might consider that perfect framing for a story about wiping out all of humanity. Gives you a reason, no?

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "TERMINATOR SALVATION")

Unidentified Man #1 (Actor): (As character) ...with me if you want to live.

MONDELLO: That line is a quote from "Terminator II," one of several in-jokes in the new film that will amuse fans but that don't exactly brighten with comedy a movie that is very effectively grim. We're no longer in an hasta la vista baby world. We've leaped ahead to 2018, post-apocalypse. The machines have done their dirty work, and humanity is on the...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "TERMINATOR SALVATION")

Unidentified Man #2 (Actor): (As character) Run.

MONDELLO: "Charlie's Angels" it's not. Director McG, borrowing a technique from war movies, so drains the screen of color he almost seems to be shooting in black and white. Happily, his way with special effects is indeed special, whether he's sending giant metal transporters to snatch up people like peanuts from a bowl or mechanical eels to thrash the audience to death.

It's a little odd when an enormous Transformer-like thingy wanders on, shedding deadly motorcycles as if they were fleas. It looks like an escapee from a much dumber summer movie, but it still helps make "Terminator Salvation" breathless and nerve-jangling.

If it's not really engaging emotionally, well, the "Terminator" franchise sort of teaches you not to get too attached to its good guys. Christian Bale is either the fourth, fifth or sixth actor to play John Connor, depending on whether you count the TV series and the flashbacks. And given the rather wayward way these films have with time travel, if he makes one wrong step in some future past, the character might not even exist next time around.

But then if you want an extended relationship, you probably shouldn't be at a franchise called "Terminator," right?

I'm Bob Mondello.

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