If it were shot in black and white, if there were an accompanying soundtrack of outer-spacey-sounding theremin music, if you were watching it with Tom Servo and Crow from Mystery Science Theater 3000 — well, The Arrival would still be a dud. But at least it would have more of that ’50s we-are-not-alone feeling David Twohy is aiming at. In tackling an ambitious science-fiction-based thriller as his first big directing gig, Twohy, a truth-is-out-there buff who cowrote The Fugitive and Waterworld, took on quite a challenge. But no challenge, apparently, was greater than figuring out what to do with that unstable life form called Charlie Sheen.
Sheen plays Zane Ziminski, a radio astronomer who, obsessively scanning the skies for the kind of cosmic noise that signals intergalactic intelligent life, hears something. His girlfriend (Mystery Date’s Teri Polo, playing a classically useless girl-in-a-sci-fi-flick role with little pizzazz) is frustrated by his obsession. His boss (Ron Silver as a beardless bad guy this time rather than a bearded one) doesn’t seem to be interested in the discovery. Zane, though, keeps muscling his way into places where he’s not wanted. Which is how he finds out…well, no point spoiling the doofus fun. Let’s just say the plot involves a speeding up of the greenhouse effect; aliens who, when in full foreign form, lope with their legs bent backwards; Lindsay Crouse as a scientist studying polar ice caps; and some nasty scorpions.
Let’s also say that Sheen’s acting, which can range from effective, controlled intensity (Platoon, Wall Street) to idiotic, uncontrolled venting (Terminal Velocity), is in pop-eyed mode here, and he spends most of the movie in a kind of sweaty apoplexy that makes one worry for his health.
For a movie with a rather grand scope — surely issues of impending ecological disaster and the search for extraterrestrial intelligence form at least as big a canvas as that of Waterworld — The Arrival looks and feels awfully small and cheap. In that way, the movie does feel like those science-fiction classics of the ’50s. But back then, sweaty heroes didn’t utter lines of ’90s dialogue like ”I look like a can of smashed a–holes.” D