By Merle Bertrand | November 8, 1999

Rachel, NV, population 99, bills itself as “The UFO Capital of the World.” After watching Jessica Landaw and David Dawes’ intriguing, if unfocused documentary about this desolate desert town, I say forget about the flying saucers. You ask me, we have far less to fear from marauding space aliens than we do from the terrifying right wing loonies who live in this barren patch of scorched earth.
With residents providing a historical overview of the titular town as the documentary opens, “Rachel, Nevada” could almost be a fairly pedestrian look at life in any small town. It’s the kind of scary redneck place where the gun-toting, conspiracy theory spouting, down with government residents shoot jack rabbits from pick-up trucks for fun and a good game of “Chicken S**t” — buy a square on a floor grid and if a chicken downloads on your square, you win the pot, no pun intended — passes for a rollicking Saturday night. While this is amusing enough in a pathetic sort of way, Rachel’s location provides an added layer of intrigue. Rachel, you see, claims its UFO Capital title thanks to its being located on the fringe of the infamously secret military base/alien repository known as Area 51. As the hamlet’s primary source of tax revenue seems to be a shoddy dive known by the clumsy moniker “The Little A’le’Inn,” Rachel’s residents don’t take too kindly to outsiders throwing cold water on their little green — excuse me, “gray” — men gold mine. Documentaries are usually made in the editing and it seems as if “Rachel, Nevada” could use another pass or two.
The broad outlines of conflict can be seen in the film like the first fuzzy pictures from the initially flawed Hubble Space Telescope. An increasingly bitter feud between self-appointed outsider skeptic Glenn Campbell (No, not that one,) and Pat and Joe Travis, owners of the Inn, has divided the townspeople in a spat that’s as comical as it is ridiculous. This squabble is what could really drive this film forward, yet Landaw and Dawes get far too bogged down in details about the hamlet, thus short-changing the one conflict that makes Rachel, NV a truly unique town. As it stands, this is a fairly entertaining, if disturbing look at small town life. With all the potential the town’s unique location provides, however, “Rachel, Nevada” could have been so much more.

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