Eric's Bad Movies: The Arrival (1996)

There was a time when Charlie Sheen was a charismatic and likable actor. Several years after that period ended, he made The Arrival. I heard he's now on a popular and long-running TV sitcom, but I have dismissed that notion as implausible and refuse to believe it.

In The Arrival, Sheen plays zany zealot Zane Zaminsky, a NASA scientist obsessed with finding signals sent from outer space, perhaps because he's eager to contact a planet where his flattop and goatee are considered fashionable. Late one night he records a screeching, incomprehensible signal that he initially assumes is the new Radiohead album but that turns out to be from aliens. He hurries to share it with his boss, Phil (Ron Silver), who points out that since Zane couldn't confirm the signal, it's not viable as proof.

"If you can't confirm it, it doesn't exist," Phil says.

"What a**hole made up that rule?!" Zane fires back. You see, Zane doesn't like it that results have to be verifiable. The scientific method you learned in ninth-grade biology? Zane thinks it's a crock of poo.

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This attitude is typical of Zane, who wakes up each morning thinking, "What can I do today to keep people from liking me?" He treats his girlfriend of two years, Char (Teri Polo), like an afterthought, ignoring her for weeks at a time and canceling dates at the last minute. When he does see her, he learns that she's thinking of taking a job in another city and tells her not to do it. Why? Because Zane is relentlessly pig-headed, self-centered, and emotionally abusive. Hilariously, the movie positions him as the heroic main character anyway. Writer/director David Twohy either thought we would enjoy watching a protagonist we hate, or else didn't think we would hate Zane. Either way, the question remains: What the hell kind of name is "Twohy"?

After being fired by NASA for his anti-science blasphemy, Zane gets a job with a satellite-dish company, which he immediately exploits for personal gain by pretending to check customers' dishes when he's really repositioning them so he can continue his alien-hunting work. He wears a different name tag at each house to prevent the customers from identifying him when they call in later to complain that they haven't been able to get any channels since the service guy left. I guess he's hoping there are a lot of other goateed, flattopped technicians in the company.

Meanwhile, in a different part of the movie, a scientist lady played by Lindsay Crouse is examining climate data!

But back to Zane Zaminsky, science-hating man of bastardry. Using his rigged-up system of mooching from other people's satellite dishes, he hears the signal again, and this time traces it to a radio station in Mexico (which, to hear Lou Dobbs tell it, is where the most dangerous aliens are anyway). Unlike American radio stations, which must comply with the Supreme Court's ruling in More Rock v. Less Talk, Mexican radio stations are free to play coded alien signals all they want, especially since most listeners prefer that over Nickelback anyway. But by the time Zane arrives in the little village that is home to the station, the building has burned to the ground. A conspiracy is afoot! Someone doesn't want Zane to learn the truth, or the station's listeners to pick up the concert tickets they won.

It's around this time that Zane, having left the country without telling Char, telephones her to have her look up something on the Internet for him. As usual, he's sour and unsympathetic. They have this exchange:

ZANE: I don't know what else to say.


CHAR: How about "I miss you"?


ZANE: I shouldn't have to say it.

Sorry, ladies! He's taken!

charlie sheen

But remember the scientist lady played by Lindsay Crouse who was examining climate data? Well, her name is Ilana Green, and she shows up in the same Mexican village as Zane, having detected enormous amounts of greenhouse gases coming from the region. (Probably because of all that Mexican food, amirite??) Like Zane, she encounters resistance from the local authorities, and she comes to believe that something suspicious is going on in this quaint town. But what could it be? And what is the so-called "arrival" alluded to in the title? Does it refer to Zane and Ilana arriving in Mexico? I hope not! Because that's not very exciting!

The movie briefly entertains the idea of having Charlie Sheen and Lindsay Crouse sleep together, but then wisely thinks better of it. Instead, Zane and Ilana are victims of separate murder attempts by the same assassin, who is an alien. The way we learn he's an alien is that his knees bend the wrong way and he can jump really high. Of course, that would mean the members of Cirque du Soleil are aliens too, and -- well, that would actually explain a lot. Huh.

Anyway, this alien fellow tries to kill Zane by waiting until he (Zane) is in the bathtub in his hotel room, then flooding the bathtub in the room directly above him, causing it to crash through the floor onto Zane's bathtub, except Zane gets out of the way at the last second. The assassin's plan for killing Ilana is only slightly less elaborate, involving a sack of scorpions that he leaves in her hotel room. The aliens have used their advanced technology to travel across the galaxy and disguise themselves as humans, and yet their methods of assassination are no better than Wile E. Coyote's.

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When Zane finally discovers the truth, it is as follows. Beneath a power plant near the Mexican town is a vast underground facility in which the aliens are creating greenhouse gases, with the intention of speeding up global warming so that all of Earth will be inhabitable for their species. (They prefer a warm climate, and they're too impatient to wait for the humans to heat up Earth on their own.) This facility also has a machine that coats the aliens in human flesh, like getting a spray-on tan, and this allows them to blend in with the Earthlings. They've been doing this for quite some time, the "arrival" having happened long before the movie started. I guess The Already Being Here wouldn't have been a very catchy title.

While he's lurking around in the underground facility, Zane avoids being caught by covering himself in that fake human skin. He's already human, of course (well, Sheen), but the aliens know what he looks like, so he has to disguise himself as a human who looks like he has covered himself in flimsy fake human skin. The aliens are fooled by this, believing he is just another one of their kind wandering their top-secret facility in a disguise they've never seen before, all while they're on high alert to be on the lookout for an intruder. Still, as dumb as these aliens are, I'd rather watch their story than Zane's.

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Eric's Bad Movies appears Thursdays at Film.com. You can visit Eric at his website, where everyone's knees bend backwards sometimes.