Television Soap Opera, a very easy lampoon, eludes the makers of the film ''Soapdish'' for a half hour or so. For that long, you wonder when these people are going to find their target. Then Kevin Kline appears and the movie begins to zing.
It's not just the fact that Kline is on the scene. The others are as funny as he is. It's just that the film takes off when he appears, and the laughs begin.
The movie, written by Robert Harling and Andrew Bergman, takes place at a television studio where the long-running daytime soap, ''The Sun Also Sets,'' continues along with Celeste Talbert (Sally Field) as the star. Celeste is getting a little older, something that seems to weigh on her mind. When she is not pleased with one of her outfits, she lets the designer know. ''Who do you think I am, Gloria Swanson?'' she asks.
She puts more into the line that we can in print, and it is especially funny when Field says it.
Whoopi Goldberg is the writer for the show, and she is wondering where she can go with it. They've done just about everything, she says. Then someone makes the suggestion that they have Celeste murder a homeless person. There is, however, one problem. If they give the girl lines, they will have to pay her more, so the producers provide a solution - they will make the girl mute.
Waiting in the wings is Jeffrey Anderson (Kline), who was with the show some 20 years before and has been doing dinner theater ever since. ''Death of a Salesman'' is his buffet vehicle, and he gets roaring mad when members of the audience have trouble hearing him.
When he returns to the soap, he begins to romance the girl who is playing the homeless mute, and when Celeste becomes aware of this, she becomes slightly hysterical. This should be a tip-off as to what is coming, and before long, life and soap become one. It soon is difficult to say where fiction ends and fact begins, and in time you don't care, because the laughs are increasing by the second.
Robert Downey Jr. is the producer of the show, Cathy Moriarty is Montana Moorehead, who plays Nurse Nan on the series, Carrie Fisher (this girl is everywhere) is the casting director, Garry Marshall is the head of daytime programming, Ariel Mahoney is Dr. Monica Delmonico, a character in the series, and Elizabeth Shue is Lori, the homeless mute.
At one point, Kline, as Dr. Rod Randall, one of the characters in the series, has trouble reading his lines. He should be wearing contacts, but he is too vain to do so, so he misreads his lines, one of the funnier segments in the film.
Field is amusingly feverish as Celeste. When she accepts her eighth award for her portrayal of Maggie, the series lead, she doesn't, as expected, tell the audience that the bestowal of the award proves that the voters like her. She should, but she doesn't, and she misses out on an inside laugh.
Kline, who let us all know he can do broad comedy in ''A Fish Called Wanda,'' does more of the same here, and very well. And Goldberg (she is Rose Schwartz in the film) is equally amusing.
''Soapdish'' may take a little time getting its lather up, but when ,, it does, the fun begins.
*** Life behind the scenes of a daytime soap opera.
CAST: Sally Field, Kevin Kline, Whoopi Goldberg, Elizabeth Shue, Carrie Fisher, Garry Marshall, Robert Downey Jr., Ariel Mahoney.
DIRECTOR: Michael Hoffman.
RATING: PG-13 (language)
RUNNING TIME: 97 minutes.