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Bad Movie Tuesday: The Arrival (1996), the 90s Sci-Fi movie for fans of waxed chests and heroic astronomers.

August 1, 2017

MY CALL:  This movie is awesome…but bad.  But it’s not a bad movie really…yet it is bad like a 90s Schwarzenegger movie…but one of the better 90s Schwarzenegger movies.  There, now you understand, right?  MORE MOVIES LIKE The ArrivalFor more mid-90s sci-fi alien invasions threatening humanity, I highly recommend Independence Day (1996), Men in Black (1997) and Species (1995).  Sphere (1998) and Contact (1997) took less invasion-y approaches.  If you want to kick the bonkers into high gear, go for Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017), Jupiter Ascending (2015) and The Fifth Element (1997).  Speaking of bonkers Sci-Fi films…we’ve podcasted about many of these films.  Check out Episode 84: Sci-Fi Past & Present, The Arrival (1996) and Arrival (2016) and Episode 81: Bonkers Sci-Fi Past & Present Extravaganza, The Fifth Element & Jupiter Ascending.

Writer and director David Twohy (the Pitch Black/Riddick trilogy, A Perfect Getaway) is no stranger to thrillers, having written The Fugitive (1993) and Waterworld (1995) as well as Warlock (1989).  He’s had experience with horror, suspense, and fantastic worlds littered with post-apocalyptic jet skis.  Combining many such notions (but no jet skis), this might just by Twohy’s most zany film ever.

Climate researcher Ilana (Lindsay Crouse; Mr. Brooks, Imposter) discovers a green grassy meadow lush with wildflowers in the middle of the arctic, as if the sun picked that one spot to turn up the heat and melt the snow.  One problem: even if it was preternaturally warmed in that single patch of land, it’s the arctic! Where did the seeds for those 15 species of plants come from!?!?! How about the nutrients needed to grow? But whatever, Twohy did make write a horror movie about a time-traveling male witch modeled after The Terminator (1984). So we need not be so critical. LOL

Meanwhile across the globe, astronomers Zane (Charlie Sheen; Machete Kills, The Chase) and Calvin (Richard Schiff; Man of Steel, The West Wing) stumble across the discovery of a lifetime when they record an alien radio signal from another galaxy.  They know they’re on to something major, but their administrative superior Phil Gordian (Ron Silver; Timecop, The Entity) is understandably skeptical.  Worse yet, due to suspiciously timed budget cuts, Zane gets laid off.

Despite getting fired and failing to confirm the signal with colleagues managing other satellite stations, Gordian agrees to pass the signal recording to decoding analysists…but instead destroys it as soon as Zane is out the door and sets him up as a fraud.  Oh, and his love life has been getting rocky with his girlfriend Char (Teri Polo; Meet the Parents).  Things just aren’t going very well for Zane.

“Bad Movie” Highlights:  No astronomer has hair that is so carefully manicured and attended with product.  Even when he is manic, paranoid, hasn’t shaved in days and on the verge of a nervous breakdown over being framed…his hair is always immaculate.

Now blacklisted from astronomy and working as a satellite cable technician, Zane highjacks an entire county’s dish service to search for his alien radio signal.  I’m safely going to assume this is not plausible, and that we have wandered into a bonkers movie.  After a trip to radio shack and some shady “free upgrades” for cable subscribers, Zane has created a NASA SETI-capable radio analysis lab above his garage.  I’m happy to afford the movie some leeway, but somewhere between the attempted assassination-by-bathtub scene and the knee-popping grasshopper jump I think all reason has been thrown out the window.

“Bad Movie” Highlights:  The reverse-knee high jump. The effects were laughable.

Climatologist Ilana has been looking into more strange things as well, like impossible predictions that global warming will cook the planet in 10 years.  Oh, remember when I said all reason was thrown out the window?  Well, Zane sees a now mustached and “more ethnic-looking” Gordian-clone working as a security guard at a Mexican power facility!  And, of course, there was the subsequent assassination attempt, this time using a pair of perfectly harmless scorpions that your kids could buy at a pet store in New Jersey.  Way to utilize that alien super-technology!

Twohy really tried to make this story global.  Zane starts in the southwestern United States and Ilana in the arctic, both ending up tracking the alien signal and global warming trends (respectively) to Oaxaca, Mexico.  Despite this global aim, the $25 million budget film only grossed $14 million box office.  Bummer.  Because, although I’m admittedly making fun of this movie quite a bit, it was a BLAST and I was happy to buy this on blu-ray!  This is the kind of silly movie that maintains a strong sense of urgency—like True Lies (1994), Timecop (1994) or Total Recall (1990).

The alien CGI effects are clearly dated, but not bad. They may not stand up to Jurassic Park (1993) or Independence Day (1996), but they also didn’t enjoy such a big budget.  Despite the more humble financing, the diversity of effects is ambitious!  Lots of alien future tech, numerous alien scenes, and the most joyously silly effect was when Zane used the alien transformation chamber and became “Latin Charlie Sheen.”

“Bad Movie” Highlights:  Latino Charlie Sheen: “I look like a can of smashed assholes.” Best quote ever!

Yes, the aliens have been living among us.  And much like They Live (1988), they have commandeered industry to use our economy and environment against us.  But no one should fear, for as long as there’s a shirtless Charlie Sheen (freshly waxed, as you would expect any astronomer to be), humanity will persevere.  You’ve gotta’ hand it to Sheen.  He’s no Hugh Jackman, but he’s trying!

“Bad Movie” Highlights:  Did they think Sheen had a great body?  Because he spends a lot of time showing off his freshly waxed and often sweat-glazed body running around without a shirt.

If you haven’t seen this, you should.  If you don’t believe me, you should listen to our podcast about this movie (Episode 84: Sci-Fi Past & Present, The Arrival (1996) and Arrival (2016), and then go see this movie!

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