Zane Zaminsky (Charlie Sheen) is an astronomer whose job it is to operate a large radio telescope, and often his girlfriend Char (Teri Polo) thinks he spends too much time at work and not with her instead. So it is tonight she has phoned him up to ask when he is going to meet her, but just as he reassures her that he's on his way, the instruments pick up a large spike of a signal from the vicinity of star they have been tracking. Dropping everything, Zane and his colleague Calvin (Richard Schiff) are stunned by the possibility that they have finally received a message from outer space...
Of course, something like this did happen once in 1977, the so-called Wow! Signal where scientists searching for extraterrestrial signals received a blast of some phenomenon for about a minute, which has never been repeated as far as we know. It's safe to say this never led to the events we see played out in The Arrival, one of cinema's answers to the television popularity of The X-Files which would often spend time on a conspiracy plot arc where space aliens were meant to be pulling the strings behind Earth's largely oblivious existence. So what we had here would not have looked out of place being investigated by Mulder and Scully.
What we actually had was Charlie Sheen, starting out the film as if in some nineteen-seventies conspiracy flick and then graduating to sabotaging the machinations of the visitors to our planet, which connected this to the other big influence, the sixties TV series The Invaders, where architect David Vincent (Roy Thinnes) found himself trying to foil the bad guys' schemes to pollute our planet all the better for their existence every week, the only clue to their otherwordly provenance being the fact that while they looked like humans, they could not bend their pinkie fingers. The creatures here are better concealed, only revealing themselved when they freakily bend their knees in the opposite direction to make good their escape from a sticky situation.
Helps them jump high and run fast, apparently. Anyway, before we reach the big reveal which is no surprise to anybody because if you haven't twigged what's going on after the first five minutes you've obviously never seen a sci-fi movie before, before we reach that, Zane has to figure out what's going on himself, which is tricky as once he has a copy of the signal his bosses and their minions appear to be doing their level best to get in his way. Main boss Gordian being played by seasoned villain actor Ron Silver is a massive giveaway that Zane is in trouble, especially as he quickly ends up locked out of his office, loses the copy, and sees Calvin whisked away in an ambulance.
So what to do but tap into the power of all the neighbourhood satellite dishes to see if he can track the signal in resourceful amateur fashion, all the while accompanied not by Char, who is absent for long stretches in possibly dodgy fashion, but by a little kid (Tony T. Johnson) whose purpose is obscure until the last ten minutes. In the meantime, Zane goes to meet with the other co-star Lindsay Crouse who is a scientist also suspecting something funny going on; they encounter one another in Mexico (this was a Mexican co-production with Hollywood) which happens to be the site of the aliens' base. Frankly this should have been a lot more exciting than it was, as too often it got bogged down in stodgy scenes of Sheen being continually confounded when you began to wish they get to the point you'd worked out ages ago. No matter how much Charlie bugs his eyes, there's not much surprising about The Arrival, though a late on twist about who is and isn't an alien is effective enough, but this had been done better on TV. Music by Arthur Kempel.