“The Arrival” should infiltrate vid stores quicker than aliens take over NASA in this grade-B sci-fier. A straight-faced updating of the 1950s space monster formula, film stars Charlie Sheen as the rogue scientist who battles E.T.s, uncovers government conspiracies and, most impressive of all, suppresses giggles when confronted with some of the silliest alien effects in memory.
Writer-director David Twohy’s film starts promisingly enough. A woman (Lindsay Crouse) is picking flowers in a lush poppy field, looking very perplexed and muttering, “These shouldn’t be here.” Camera pulls back, way back, to show the field as a small patch of flora in the arctic snow, the Greenhouse Effect in action.
Meanwhile, back in the U.S., a California radio astronomer named Zane Ziminski (Sheen) is passing a boring night in a monitoring station when the wavelength blips start bouncing off the charts and weird space noise comes blaring through the loudspeakers. He takes taped evidence of the transmission to his skeptical boss (Ron Silver) at NASA, demanding “serious dish time” but getting canned instead.
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Ziminski, of course, doesn’t give up, building a computer command outpost in his garage and jerry-rigging a neighborhood’s satellite dishes to retrieve news from outer space. He traces the sound waves to a remote Mexican village, where he encounters the poppy-field woman, a scientist whose investigation into potentially cataclysmic climatic shifts has led to the same village.
The long-awaited arrival doesn’t occur until nearly halfway through the film, as the two scientists dodge run-ins with strange-acting locals who have an odd habit of bending their legs backward at the knees and leaping tall buildings in single bounds. Advanced intelligence notwithstanding, the invaders seem to prefer old-fashioned ways of offing nosy earthlings, as Crouse’s scientist discovers when she crawls into a bed full of scorpions.
Sheen’s discovery of the aliens’ subterranean headquarters far beneath a Mexican power plant is a letdown dramatically — he traipses about like he had a VIP pass — and visually. The computer-generated E.T.s themselves seem no higher-tech than Ray Harryhausen’s model creatures, knee-bends and all.
Film’s other chief effect is an alien device called an “imploder,” a basketball-sized sphere that resembles the type element on an IBM Selectric. As the imploder hovers and spins, it creates a mini black hole, sucking up everything in its radius. A twister it isn’t, but the sphere’s climactic suck-up of an entire satellite-dish station is effective enough.
Sheen holds his head reasonably high throughout, drawing unintentional laughs only during the ending’s message-heavy speech, and even that might be less the actor’s fault than a sudden reappearance of those backward knees. Rest of the cast is fine, though Silver seems to be transmitting his performance from a distant outpost.
Tech credits are in line with the headed-for-cable feel.