Remember that cute little tyke from Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)? Well, somebody thought it was a good idea to tailor an entire movie around him. And that somebody seems to have been… Sergio Leone?!! The insanity begins when an array of UFO sightings around the town of Newnan, Georgia cause electrical appliances to go haywire, leaving local citizens in hysterics. Panic erupts when a burly figure in a silver jumpsuit appears out of nowhere, but it turns out to be Sheriff Hall (Bud Spencer), the jolly giant law enforcer indulging his passion for beekeeping. Shortly after wiping the floor with a company of soldiers led by trigger-happy Captain Briggs (Raimund Harmstorf), Sheriff Hall stumbles upon a mysterious little boy (Cary Guffey) at the local fairground, who claims to be an extraterrestrial called H7-25. With the military hot on his heels, it falls to Sheriff Hall to ensure the pint-sized alien beams back to his mothership.
Made by Leone’s production company, The Sheriff and the Satellite Kid is a typical Italian cash-in on a short-lived film fad. While most cult film fans are aware of the Italian space operas that followed in the wake of Star Wars (1977), their Close Encounters… rip-offs are altogether rarer, more eccentric beasts. Though Eyes Behind the Stars (1978) and Encounters in the Deep (1978) were ambitious imitations hampered by insufficient budgets, the majority merely grafted flying saucers onto Italian cinema staples, including the sex comedy as in Very Close Encounters of the Fourth Kind (1979), or in this case the slapstick kiddie comedy.
Trading on the same mix of knockabout violence and broad, cartoon-like humour that served star Bud Spencer so well in his umpteen pairings with Terence Hill, this also ladles on a thick dollop of syrupy sentimentality. With barely any story to speak of, the film strains for whimsy, hoping viewers will find H7-25’s cutesy antics irresistible as his magic ray-gun enables big Bud to catch king-sized catfish or makes a horse and a German Shepherd speak English (the latter with a German accent!), and soldiers speed about like Keystone Cops. Without Steven Spielberg’s guiding hand Cary Guffey is not the most expressive child actor. He comes across like the glassy-eyed zombie of the mirthful little boy he was in Close Encounters… as he gives Bud Spencer the thumbs up or laughs uproariously through an array of nonsensical episodes.
Big Bud Spencer essays his stock character of the gargantuan sized, short fused but good hearted hero with superhuman strength. He has a mildly engaging scene wherein he waxes lyrical about Laurel and Hardy, but mostly goes with the flow while a typically inane disco ditty from Guido and Maurizio de Angelis plays ad nauseam on the soundtrack, likely to leave viewers screaming for mercy. Plus it’s weird to see an Italian extolling the virtues of Heinz baked beans. Even stranger is the spectacle of former boxer Joe Bugner playing town clown Brennan. Yes, that really is the man who fought two heavyweight bouts against Muhammad Ali being slapped around like a human ping-pong ball.
Somebody involved in this production must be a fan of The Andy Griffith Show since the inclusion of small-town eccentrics, a jittery deputy sheriff (Luigi Bonos) and the stoically tolerant hero all hark back to that small-screen classic. And yet this is very much a sarcastic European’s caricatured vision of America with pie-scoffing yokels in plaid shirts and dungarees (who recoil at the thought of sharing food with anyone - even a visitor from outer space); crass media hounds; and insanely trigger-happy military men happy to use a little boy for target practice.
Elements seem out to spoof Spielberg’s love of suburban minutia and innocent Americana, but are only serviceably directed by Michele Lupo - an old hand at knockabout action-comedies like Africa Express (1976) and Bulldozer (1978), although he did make the ambitious late period spaghetti western California (1977). Hardly offensive, but pretty stupid overall, audiences must have found something they liked about The Sheriff and the Satellite Kid since it was followed by a sequel: Why Did You Pick On Me? (1980).