THE PTL Club meets "The Outer Limits" in "Uforia," a completely captivating link-up of science fiction, fundamentalism and country-western comedy in which a trusting flock of space cadets have a close encounter with God.
It's set in California's Mojave Desert -- that far outpost of reason where so many flying saucers have touched down it's rumored there is a complete service for eight laid out somewhere near Edwards Air Force Base. Here the flock join in a countdown for the second coming. God, it is foretold, has got the right stuff, and is sending his ship to beam up the faithful.
Cindy Williams of "Laverne & Shirley" is as credible as the plot is incredible. The TV trouper creates a true-to-life, blue collar heroine in their pug-nosed spiritual leader, a born-again grocery checker named Arlene who believes that Mary and Joseph were astronauts and that Jesus (pronounced GEE- zus in these parts) came to earth in a UFO. She has dreamed that the ship is coming back, like an ark, to rescue the righteous, and that she is a modern-day Noah who will lead them into orbit.
Her messianic message attracts the faithful fringe -- crazies and cultists in deelyboppers who believe in pyramid power and chariots of the gods. It's as much a fond portrait of these people as a sci-fi send-up by John Binder of documentaries "Marjoe" and 'Woodstock," a man long associated with faith and impossible dreams, a filmmaker who doesn't patronize these easy marks, but seems to praise their open minds along with their happy gullibility.
This magically silly satire costars Harry Dean Stanton as Brother Bud, a tent preacher and healer who's bilking the believers with phony faith healing, while also selling stolen cars. He's not the match of Elmer Gantry, but Stanton is persuasive in this rascal's role.
Fred Ward, of "The Right Stuff" and "Remo," is Sheldon, a non-believer transformed by the coming of the astro messiah and by that most earthly of inspirations -- love, love, love. He's a charming, no-account country drifter who seduces the supermarket oracle, but finds himself actually falling in love. He'd like to cut her loose, but "I ain't tired of her yet," he confesses to Brother Bud.
Humble dialogue, good humor and honest insights highlight this infectious yarn flavored with the country score of Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, EmmyLou Harris, Roger Miller and Brenda Lee. It also offers playful cinematography, with Sheldon and Arlene backlit and in soft-focus between the soap boxes and sparkling sacks of junk food.
"Uforia" does let down some toward the end, even as it builds to its climactic finale, a clone of "Close Encounters," though this spaceship isn't a music box. Still, star-trekking with the savior makes for extraterrestrial entertainment of the highest order.
UFORIA -- At the West End Circle.