Opens: May 31, 1996 | Rated: PG-13
"The Arrival" is in trouble in its first 15 minutes. That's how long it takes the audience to understand what the characters need the rest of the picture to figure out -- global warming is plot by aliens to make Earth more hospitable for their pending colonization.
The audience remains 10 steps ahead of the story for the next hour and a half, only to find a nonsensical, anti-climactic ending without a shred of resolution waiting for them when the credits roll.
Charlie Sheen and his permanently furrowed forehead (he displays a record two facial expressions) play a NASA radio astronomer who discovers a signal from a distant star. "The Arrival" quickly turns into a conspiracy story with Sheen on the run from aliens who already live on Earth, disguised as neighborhood gardeners and NASA employees.
After Sheen's alien-infiltrator supervisor (Ron Silver) fires him for getting to close to the truth, he creates his own radio telescope by wiring together all his neighbor's satellite dishes and hooking them up to knickknacks from Radio Shack.
He and the obligatory nosy kid next door find an Earth-based signal responding to the space transmission and he takes off for Mexico to trace the source, leaving a very angry girlfriend (Teri Polo from the later days of "Northern Exposure") in his wake.
South of the border he meets up with a atmospheric scientist (Lindsay Crouse, "The Juror") who has also been led there by a trail of global warming evidence that started with a meadow of daisies in the middle of the Arctic.
Together they find a huge satellite dish camouflaged as a power plant, and soon every human who knows about the pending invasion is dead, save Sheen of course -- the aliens pass up several opportunities to kill him.
The film was written and directed by David Twohy, who has a spotty record when it comes to loopholes like this. On his better days he can pump out a script as good as "The Fugitive," but he was also the mastermind behind "Alien3" and "Waterworld."
He also has a problem with brevity. "The Arrival" is a good 20 minutes too long and heavy with useless scenes in which we learn far too much about Sheen's relationship with his girlfriend.
The visual effects, including the entirely computer animated aliens, are impressive, but after "Twister" and "Jurassic Park," these creepy invaders -- with heavy flaps of skin covering exposed brains and grasshopper-like legs -- are clearly the work of one of Hollywood's cheaper effects houses.
These ETs are none too bright, either. They have the technology to wreak havoc on the atmosphere, but weapons know-how seems to have escaped them. They kill the atmospheric scientist with the old scorpions-in-the-bed trick (a scene that goes on for just days), and come at Sheen with nothing more than knives and fists.
The idea behind "The Arrival" -- aliens terraforming the Earth to better suit their physiology -- certainly had potential, but the wrong people got their hands on it.
Produced by straight-to-video masters Live Entertainment, "The Arrival" is their usual fare, catapulted into theaters only by the dim marquee power of Sheen.
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