November 19, 1990 12:00 PM

Teri Garr, Shirley MacLaine

Writer-director Christopher Monger, an Englishman making his U.S. feature debut, thinks the 1962 Cuban missile crisis and a sighting of an angel in a small town in Washington State make for a tidy dual story line. “I wanted to make a film about a moment in history when people are frightened,” he has said, “when people are uncertain about the future and when people are looking for faith.”

While he never really makes that connection very clear in this comedy, he does have Garr and MacLaine to pull his parallel plots out of the fire. While TV sets keep broadcasting actual newsreel footage from the era—including President Kennedy’s appearances and the sound of the air-raid song “Duck and Cover”—the two women are caught up in the slim comedy involved in running a diner near the angel sighting.

MacLaine, in high curmudgeon mode, plays a retired Chicago magician who does shows at kids’ parties, including one where she saws someone in half. (“I used to have a lot of brothers and sisters,” her patter goes. “Now they’re all half brothers and half sisters.”) She and Garr, who plays her niece, move to Washington after they inherit the diner. When Garr’s two kids annoy the new next-door neighbor, he takes a belt to them. In helping them get revenge, MacLaine inadvertently sets off the angel sighting.

The place becomes a sudden tourist attraction, and while Garr and Jack (Lethal Weapon 2) McGee, a sleazy reporter, are on to the scam, it escalates to a moment when a real miracle is needed to save the attraction. Most people could guess if such a miracle is forthcoming; not everybody could guess which of the men in her life Garr ends up with (the wrong one).

This is a harmless, pleasant little film, along the lines of the antinuke fable Amazing Grace and Chuck, though not nearly so ambitious or so satisfying. (PG)

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