By Stephanie Zacharek
By Stephanie Zacharek
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By Amy Nicholson
By subject, movies come in sets of three. In 1984, we had Places in the Heart, The River and Country; last year we had Highlander: The Final Dimension, Rob Roy and Braveheart; and I'm still wondering whatever happened to the third pig movie.
Probably intended to capitalize on the loyal cult of The X-Files, three big releases slated for this year deal with alien visitation. The Arrival has made its arrival first, beating the massive special-effects festival Independence Day and Men in Black into theatres. Here's hoping it's the worst of the three.
Writer-director David Twohy's script is a reasonably well-crafted piece of work out of which an entertaining sci-fi thriller could have been built, but Twohy's direction, and the miserable performances elicited from his cast, made it a chore for me to sit through, despite my fondness for sci-fi films. The plot is basically a feature-length X-Files episode, but, most notably, it lacks the self-deprecating--almost sheepish and apologetic--wit of that show at its best.
The Arrival, as is now virtually de rigueur for the genre, mixes sci-fi chills with government-conspiracy paranoia. Charlie Sheen plays Zane, a radio astronomer scanning the skies for signs of intelligent life in the universe; one night he hears a weird noise that sounds promising. He takes the info to his superior (Ron Silver), who of course promptly fires Zane and hushes up his discovery.
Working on his own, or with the help of an inner-city kid next door (Tony T. Johnson), Zane continues to probe the mystery, which eventually leads him to a town in Mexico where strange things are happening. Zane and a sympathetic climatologist played by Lindsay Crouse soon find themselves threatened by an alien vanguard that, for all its technical superiority, is rather amusingly low-tech when it comes to violence: Alien hit men try to whack Zane by dropping a bathtub on him and, later, simply attacking him with a machete, while an army of scorpions is released in Crouse's hotel room.
The dialogue is clunky, though some of it is delivered in seemingly unintentionally rhymed couplets--a telephone message from Zane's ex-girlfriend concludes: "I miss your paranoid brain/Call when you can; I love you, Zane." Or, Zane, unable to forget the ex: "She's outta my bed/But still in my head."
But far more ruinous than the dialogue is Twohy's ponderous direction. The film's first image--Crouse in an anomalous verdant zone in the arctic, surrounded by endless white--should be striking, as should Zane's first earful of the spooky sound from beyond. But these and other potentially effective bits are handled with so leaden a touch that they produce no tingle.
Most of the actors perform indifferently. Silver wins the heated competition for "Cast Member Who Seems Most Bored and Embarrassed," with Crouse a close second, and lovely Teri Polo, as the girlfriend, a distant third.
The exception, alas for him, is Sheen, who works hard and earnestly and comes across the worst. I've liked Sheen in other roles--especially in Adam Rifkin's underrated satire The Chase--but his best attribute in The Arrival is the marvelous pair of sunglasses he wears through much of the film. I'd consider sitting through the picture again if they gave out a few pairs of those shades as door prizes. Not only are they chic, they cover Sheen's hammy eye-rolling.
There's not much of an upside to The Arrival, although the aliens, when we finally see them, are rather elegant--they looked to me like ambulatory office furniture. Most charmingly, one of them, upon spying Sheen snooping around, did a visible double take. Apparently, some things really are universal.
Directed by David Twohy; with Charlie Sheen, Ron Silver, Lindsay Crouse, Teri Polo and Tony T. Johnson.
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