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A favorite trope among the critical elite is the old trick of pointing out how a bad movie is a metaphor for itself. They pick out a particular scene, or line of dialogue, to construct an elaborate meta symmetry between the action onscreen and the actions that led to it literally being on-screen.

Recently, this popped up in reviews for Jurassic World, which told the tale of how corporate greed and a need to invent bigger, faster and scarier monsters went horribly wrong, resulting in the (creative) death of innocent (storytelling narratives) bystanders.

Perhaps no film has been so perfectly tailored for the plot-is-review device as Terminator Genysis, which seeks to recapture the early magic of an enduring cinema franchise by sending characters to the past and making a mess of the original timeline.

In short, it’s a reboot *about* rebooting. It tries to jump back in time to save the franchise from destruction, but fails.

Unlike 2009’s Star Trek, which pulled off a similar stunt by hitting the space-time reset button before setting off on a satisfactory stand-alone story, TG has little more on its mind than borrowing table scraps from the original (far superior) Terminator films and offering little by way of justification for its existence.

For the uninitiated, in the year 2029 mankind has been all but wiped out by an army of sentient machines controlled by the Skynet program. A small resistance force, led by John Connor (Jason Clarke) is nearing victory, which prompts Skynet to send a humanoid “Terminator” back in time to kill Connor’s mother Sarah (GoT’s Emilia Clarke) before Connor can be born, thus clearing the chess board of its opposing King. But Connor is able to send back one of his lieutenants, Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney of Divergent and Jack Reacher) to find and protect his mother from the machine.

That’s the plot of The Terminator, a great film directed more than two decades ago by James Cameron. For reasons that remain unexplained after the credits roll on Genysis, something is altered in the timeline, resulting in Kyle Reese finding a battle-hardened Sarah Connor and her Terminator sidekick (original star Arnold Shwarzeneggar, returning to the franchise after a one-film absence) in lieu of the damsel he was expecting.

So after a few scenes that recreate (with a twist!) the iconic imagery of T1 and T2, the plot zips ahead to 2017, the new date of the robopacolypse, with our heroes fighting to destroy a nascent Skynet.

Much like Jurassic World, the film offers two hours of satisfactory action-fueled fun the unfortunately falls apart on further reflection. At the end of the day, TG is little more than rehash of the “destroy Skynet” plot established in T2 and repeated in the abysmal T3 and tragically underwhelming T4. Its an improvement over the last two films, but after leaving the theater, and decompressing from the pulse-pounding Hans Zimmer soundtrack and destructo-porn, you realize that you’ve already seen that movie, several times, and you’re not entirely sure why you haven’t stopped yet.

As a standalone film, Genisys is baffling at best, with hordes of unanswered questions (likely saved for the inevitable sequel) and long stretches of chunky exposition that attempt to justify the plot gymnastics of the time-travel shenanigans.

Unfortunately it’s a pale imitation of its predecessors, with a lessor Sarah Connor, a lesser Kyle Reese, and a grey-haired Arnold who insists, on several occasions, that he is old “but not obsolete.” His familiar catch phrase of “I’ll be back” makes it’s appearance, but at this point its a threat directed at the audience.

Grade: C

*’Terminator Genisys’ opens nationwide on Wednesday, July 1.

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*This review was originally posted during coverage of the 2014 Sundance Film Festival

Director David Wain’s latest ensemble satire is to romantic comedies what Scary Movie was to the horror genre. The story follows the romance of Paul Rudd and Amy Poehler, she the small business owner and he the corporate robot poised to drive her out of business until their paths cross and they fall in love. Lending support is an expansive cast that includes Ed Helms, Bill Hader, Ellie Kemper, Christopher Meloni, Jason Mantzoukas and cameos from just about every actor who has appeared in a critically acclaimed TV comedy over the last five years.

Wain’s surreal comedic tone is ever-present, and the increasingly absurdist shenanigans are undeniably hilarious, but in gleefully dwelling in the tropes of a genre deemed “cheesy” and “lame” They Came Together can’t help but get a little bit of cheese on its own fingers. The framing structure, which sees Rudd and Poehler telling their “how did you meet” story on a double date sets the rules of the game early on but ultimately turns into the kind of repetitive joke that delivers diminishing returns.

They Came Together is a very funny film, with hysterical moments a-plenty. But it is unlikely to reach the same lasting cult status as some of Wain et al’s other collaborations.

Grade: B

*They Came Together opens in theaters on Friday, June 27.

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