In an age of assembly-line blockbusters, it has, paradoxically, become easier to get away with being a meandering art fraud: The hunger for something -- anything -- different transcends all. In ''Twin Falls Idaho'' (1999), the first movie written and directed by Mark and Michael Polish, the filmmakers starred as mournful conjoined twins; the morbid cheekiness of this reflexive sideshow stunt made it possible to forgive that the Polish brothers, with their oversaturated gloom, were successors to David Lynch -- in their own inflated minds. Then came ''Jackpot'' (2001), which stretched out the Lynchian pauses like so much flavorless chewing gum.
None of this, however, quite prepared me for the stultifying awfulness of Northfork. It has that vintage Polish pace, their signature arch pomposity and rhythmless weirdness, only this time the brothers had to go and make a cosmic allegory of American dreams. In 1955, the Great Plains town of Northfork is about to be flooded to make way for a hydroelectric dam. The characters include half a dozen government ciphers who travel around in dark suits to evacuate the residents; a man with two wives who has built an ark; an angelic orphan; and a quartet of harlequin oddjobs who may be the orphan's fellow seraphim -- among them, a British fop who talks of nothing but tea, and so forth. What all this adds up to is ''nostalgic'' amber poured over a very large pile of mythopoetic dithering.