''Last Exit to Brooklyn,'' a film version of the 1964 novel by Hubert Selby Jr., has all the enchantment of a highway accident.
Watching it is a little like stepping in something then trying your best to scrape it off your shoes.
Selby's novel was a kind of stream-of-consciousness thing in which a number of short stories were loosely woven together. The film, considering its subject matter, is well made and remains true, more or less, to the book. You can't, however, feel sorry for any of these people. Actually, you don't give a hang for any of them.
The film takes place in 1952, in a sector of Brooklyn that looks like the worst ghetto in a South American country, only worse.
The characters, all of whom pummel others or are beaten up by others, brutalize their way across the screen. They include a gang of hooligans who maltreat everyone and a whore who lures servicemen to an area where they are rolled by the girl's companions, those hooligans. There is also a shop steward who is married and has a child but is in love with a homosexual, a queen, and there is a young girl who, while pregnant, looks no bigger than she might be if she were not.
Ricki Lake plays the mother-to-be. Lake was in John Waters' ''Cry-Baby.'' She bring Waters to mind when you see the film, parts of which play like a Waters movie, one of his earlier productions.
''Last Exit to Brooklyn,'' professionally photographed and aptly directed by Uli Edel of Germany, is nonetheless a trial. If feels good to leave the theater and walk out into the sunshine, the rain, a typhoon, anything.
''Last Exit to Brooklyn'' plays today through Saturday at the Charles.
''Last Exit to Brooklyn'' * Life in a Brooklyn ghetto, 1952.
CAST: Stephen Lang, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Burt Young, Peter Dobson, Jerry Orbach, Ricki Lake
DIRECTOR: Uli Edel
RATING: R (sex, nudity, violence, language)
RUNNING TIME: 100 minutes