Gerard Depardieu is the big surprise in ''Green Card.'' The actor, without whom there might be no film industry in France, does surprisingly well with his lines. It's surprising because he doesn't really know the English language and was doing his lines by rote.
The movie is a minor if not a major pleasure. One of the more interesting things about it is that it was directed by Peter Weir, the Australian who did ''Witness'' and ''Dead Poets Society.'' ''Green Card'' is not the sort of thing you'd expect from someone who did these and ''Picnic at Hanging Rock.''
''Green Card'' is a comedy, the sort that was done in the '30s and '40s by Jean Arthur, Claudette Colbert and Irene Dunne. It is miles removed from the films Weir has done, but he's handled it quite well. The film moves with admirable lightness and has a number of batty touches. It also has Depardieu.
Andie MacDowell is the American girl who makes a marriage of convenience with George (Depardieu), a Frenchman. She must marry in order to win the apartment she covets, and he must be married to an American before he can secure the green card that will allow him to work in this country.
MacDowell (''sex, lies and videotape'') is the weak link in this chain. She is good but not good enough. She just doesn't have the kind of talent that is called for by this sort of comedy. Not yet.
Lois Smith and Conrad McLaren are parents to Bronte (MacDowell), and Gregg Edelman is the man who is engaged to marry this woman, who is already married to George.
Dogging the newlyweds are immigration agents who suspect that this marriage was not made it heaven. In an attempt to conceal the real reason for the union, girl and boy undergo a crash course in familiarization.
''Green Card'' opens here today. It is a worthy tribute to the art form that Hollywood created and refined. All it really needs is someone like Jean Arthur.
''Green Card'' ** A Frenchman marries an American girl in order to obtain a green card that will allow him to work in this country.
CAST: Gerard Depardieu, Andie MacDowell, Gregg Edelman, Robert Prosky, Jessie Keosian, Lois Smith, Conrad McLaren
DIRECTOR: Peter Weir
RATING: PG-13 (language)
) RUNNING TIME: 110 minutes