"Uforia," a no-budget sci-fi comedy, has the charms you expect from such a movie, the loose wigginess, the breathable characterizations. The hero, Sheldon (Fred Ward), bombs around the California desert, surviving on shoplifting and petty theft, looking in the mirror and seeing Waylon Jennings. When he chances across the evangelistic tent show of his old pal Brother Bud (Harry Dean Stanton), he knows he has a regular gig.

Together, they fleece the fleeceable, faking faith healing, soliciting contributions that go directly to Jesus. Arlene (Cindy Williams) isn't fooled, and partly because she's onto him, Sheldon falls for her. When she begins to have visions of flying saucers, he becomes her Elmer Gantry, selling Unidentified Flying Salvation.

"Uforia" moves along easily -- it's an amiable, affectionate satire of familiar American types, wide-eyed believers and the buncombe artists who gleefully prey on them. The script is best at its ragged edges (as when a character relates how once, on LSD, he suckled at his own breast).

Director John Binder gives his actors room to develop their own rhythms, and it pays off. Fred Ward is slicked-down and ornery, Williams an attractive, saucer-eyed ditz, and Stanton completes another chapter in his portrait of crumbling corruption.

But the flip side of no-budget filmmaking, alas, is that "Uforia" is abysmally shot. There's no dynamism in the frame, the lighting is downright ugly, and it's virtually a textbook of where not to put the camera. "Uforia" is a softhearted movie -- its motto, in essence, is "Ya gotta believe" -- but Binder's hapless camera style, the way he places the camera a mile away, or seals his actors off in close-ups, keeps it cold and distant. It's sort of like "Melvin and Howard," as directed by Melvin.

Uforia, opening today at the Circle West End, is rated PG and contains profanity and sexual themes.