Genre: Sci-Fi Thriller Running Time: 1 hr. 55 min.
Release Date: May 31st, 1996 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: David Twohy Actors: Charlie Sheen, Lindsay Crouse, Richard Schiff, Ron Silver, Teri Polo, Leon Rippy, Buddy Joe Hooker, Phyllis Applegate
ust as he’s making late night rendezvous plans with girlfriend Char (Teri Polo), radio astronomer Zane Zaminsky (Charlie Sheen) at satellite dish observation center Station 5 picks up a strange incoming message. Scrambling over the Signal Detection Protocol, along with his partner Calvin (Richard Schiff), the duo monitors 42 seconds of non-random, non Earth-based communications, which they guess are some sort of distress call. But when Zane presents the information – the preeminent discovery of the century – to his skeptical boss Phil Gordian (Ron Silver) at JPL (NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab), Zane is fired.
With the possibility of discovering extrasolar life, Zane is surprisingly welcomed only by the loss of his job. And instead of passing on the signal to the decoding department, Gordian destroys the tape and pretends as if it never existed. The next day, Department of Defense officials show up to Station 5 to seize all the research and data Zane and Calvin collected, blaming the signal on a spy plane. But it’s a flimsy excuse that is clearly covering for genuine alien communication attempts, which the government isn’t about to let fall into the wrong hands.
Sheen is a suitable choice for a moderately nerdy researcher type, getting to spout some silly one-liners while excreting sarcasm and comical paranoia – not unlike his character from “Terminal Velocity” two years prior. Here, he’s also paired with a young sidekick (Tony T. Johnson as Kiki), designed to give Zaminsky a charming, fatherlike persona, even though he really isn’t wanting of it. In the world of “The Arrival,” the main protagonist just needs to be relatable enough to serve as a conduit for extraterrestrial visitation, explained through jargon and general, acceptable levels of inquisitiveness.
Another subplot involves atmosphere researcher Ilana Green (Lindsay Crouse) trying to get to the bottom of a strange, catastrophic projection of increases in greenhouse gasses in Mexico. Her involvement is similarly included to round out a family arrangement to make the notion of an enormous cover-up conspiracy, murder, and hostile alien visitors just that much more frightening to the average person. Of course, there’s also an element of lighthearted adventure (like Indiana Jones or Allan Quatermain), fused with comedy and mystery and romance. Unfortunately, where the film starts to fall apart is at the introduction of the aliens themselves, which suffer from dated special effects and an immediate aura of disbelief (even though some of the miniatures and set designs look convincing enough). Despite a few interesting ideas (borrowing a bit from “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” and “They Live”) and some undeniable fun (with a hint of an environmental message), the science-fiction in this film isn’t treated with much sincerity and isn’t able to cover territory that hasn’t been seen in episodes of “Star Trek.”
– MIke Massie