''Thelma and Louise'' means to be the female version of ''Bonnie and Clyde'' or ''Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.'' It has elements of both but doesn't do that much with them.
Yes, the new film has been handsomely photographed, has some great performances and some very funny passages, but overall the movie fails, probably because the viewer eventually loses sympathy with the lead characters.
''Thelma and Louise'' is a road picture. That is, most of the action takes place on the road, and this much is authentic. You can almost smell the exhaust, feel the dust and hear all the road noise.
Atmosphere, however, doesn't account for everything, at least not in this case. The two lead characters, played by Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon, are appealing at start but become tiresome as they move along. They also become more deadly.
Sarandon is a waitress who is loved by an OK guy, and Davis is married to a man who may be cheating on her. Even if he isn't, he is not exactly attentive to the woman.
Louise (Sarandon) is a bit thick-headed at start, but when she takes to the road, she smartens up. Thelma (Davis) is smart from the start, but she has problems. There is something bothering her, and she allows this past hurt to govern her behavior, beginning with a shooting early in the film.
The victim, a would-be rapist, deserves what he gets, and at this point, the women could turn themselves in, but because director Ridley Scott (''Alien'') wants to take this show on the road, the girls decide against going to the law.
Instead, Louise, bolder and bolder by the hour, decides to hold up a grocery store. The fact that she is being taped in the act is something she doesn't know, but then, at this point she is still not that smart.
The ladies could still get out of all this with minimum payment, but Scott wants to go all the way, give this movie a particular finish, so the women commit a rather serious crime, one that leaves the spectator feeling great concern for the victim, a policeman.
It is a familiar movie pitfall -- losing respect for the main characters -- and this particular film never quite makes it out of that hole; not that Scott and scriptwriter Callie Khouri want it to. They mean to give their film a ''Butch Cassidy'' finish. Do they? Well, if you're interested enough, the film opens here today.
"Thelma and Louise" does have some strong acting, beginning with the stars, Davis, in particular. As a pretty, not-too-bright young woman, she is completely believable, down to the smudgy face. Sarandon, as the older of the two, is almost as good, but then hers is not the better role in this film.
Christopher McDonald plays Louise's husband, and he is a vastly amusing figure. He isn't very nice, but he is funny. Michael Madsen is very sympathetic as the man who loves Thelma but can't get her to settle down. Brad Pitt is the young drifter who takes the girls for as much as he can.
''Thelma and Louise'' ** A waitress and a housewife take to the road and a crime spree.
CAST: Susan Sarandon, Geena Davis, Christopher McDonald, Michael Madsen, Brad Pitt, Harvey Keitel
DIRECTOR: Ridley Scott
RATING: R (language, nudity, sex, violence)
) RUNNING TIME: 128 minutes