Film and TV

E.T., Go Home

For more than half a century, science-fiction movies have been asking if there's intelligent life in outer space. The Arrival makes you wonder how much of it is left on Earth.

Imagine Charlie Sheen as one Zane Zaminski, a goofy science nerd with a bad crewcut, fogged-up glasses and a 35-year-old Saab that needs paint and tires--a guy who spends all his days and nights in the shadow of a huge satellite dish, listening for meaningful signals from the cosmos. So far, not so bad. Heidi Fleiss never calls in, and Charlie is so damn convincing as an obsessive geek that you start rooting for him almost immediately.

But intrigue soon turns into improbability when, three minutes after the Big Signal inevitably shows up, Zane is unceremoniously fired by his bosses and begins to suspect some kind of coverup. We're not done yet. In case you haven't guessed, it's not only NASA or the government that is muddying the waters but the extraterrestrials themselves.

Our man Zane jerry-builds his own powerful antenna with unwitting help from the neighbors, enlists the aid of a cute neighbor kid (Tony T. Johnson) in a bow to that Spielberg childhood-wonder thing, then scoots off to central Mexico, where the heart of the mystery lies. Here we get some great special effects inside a dazzling "terraform" factory, where we finally meet the sinewy, copper-colored creatures from Out There. They are galaxy-class high-jumpers whose knee joints bend backward and who sport useful little brain-flaps on the backs of their heads: all in all, a terrific new species--if you don't consider the evil intentions. Looking for an extended dark joke about illegal Mexican aliens? Here you go.

Unfortunately, there's also some bilge in here about global warming, Zane's unhappy wife, Char (Teri Polo), and a dark conspiracy that will threaten the entire planet unless our nerd can head it off at the intergalactic pass. Who's your money on? Charlie/Zane grows ever more heroic as the plot grows ever more preposterous. Bathtubs start falling through ceilings in fleabag hotels, the bad guys set loose a plague of scorpions, and our hero--who has a lot in common with the obsessed Dreyfuss character in Close Encounters of the Third Kind--gets a chance to freeze a quartet of villains in liquid nitrogen. There's also a baseball-sized gizmo that emits rays of light, starts spinning and sucks everything within 200 yards into a magic vortex.

As usual, all the gadgets in the world cannot compensate for incredulity, or for a movie that runs out of dramatic steam in its final half hour. At least the filmmaker may have an excuse. He is David Twohy, the inventive writer of Alien 3 and The Fugitive, and he does double duty here as director. Let's cut him some slack, shall we, in view of his last gig: He was the writer on Waterworld, and his brain waves are evidently still a little damp from the ordeal.

--Gallo

The Arrival. Written and directed by David Twohy. With Charlie Sheen, Ron Silver, Teri Polo, Lindsay Crouse and Tony T. Johnson.

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Bill Gallo
Contact: Bill Gallo