DYING YOUNG'' plays a little like Bette Davis' ''Dark Victory.'' It also has touches of ''Educating Rita'' and ''Pretty Woman,'' one of Julia Roberts' previous films.
Its trouble is that it doesn't play as well as any of those films. The actors are personable, the direction is steady, but the movie, a four-ply weeper, is one of those by-the-number things with nary a surprise.
It also lacks cuteness, which a movie of this sort needs. A film as predictable as this one is seriously in need of scenes that stand out, scenes that give the movie a little life, no pun intended.
Roberts plays a young woman who has a talent for mating with the wrong guys. When her latest lover betrays her, she drops him and answers an ad for a nurse-companion to a 28-year-old shut-in. The young man has leukemia and is going through chemotherapy.
At first, Hilary is appalled, but in time she falls in love with her charge and together they rent a home at the beach, where they live in relative bliss until Victor begins to feel ill again.
Roberts' co-star is Campbell Scott, son of Colleen Dewhurst and George C. Scott. Dewhurst also appears in the film, as the owner of a winery and employer of Gordon, played by Vincent D'Onofrio, who comes on to Hilary (Roberts) but in a very nice way.
D'Onofrio almost brings the film to life, but he doesn't have that much to do. He is, however, a rather remarkable performer. He was the obese private in ''Full Metal Jacket'' and appeared with Roberts in the 1988 ''Mystic Pizza.'' He is different, in appearance and performance, in each film he does.
Much has been written about the film, about the title changes that were considered and about the original ending and the one the producers decided to use.
The one they do use is the better one, but it doesn't save the movie. "Dying Young" is not really bad, but it's not that good, either. There are those who will compare this film to the 1970 ''Love Story,'' but ''Love Story,'' a box-office success that was slaughtered by the critics, was the better film.
Joel Schumacher did the direction for the new movie. Schumacher did ''Cousins'' and ''The Lost Boys,'' two excellent films.
Roberts does extremely well. She cries well and laughs well. She does everything well. If the movie has star power, she is the one who provides it. She is an intriguing young actress.
Scott is equally engaging as Victor, the leukemia victim who tries to introduce Hilary to the finer world of art and music. That's when the film begins to play like ''Educating Rita'' and ''Pretty Woman.'' Would that it had done more with that situation.
The actress who plays Hilary's mother is unbilled. She looks very much like Ellen Burstyn. It's a good turn, one of the better the film has.
1% ''Dying Young'' opens here today.
** A young woman agrees to serve as nurse-companion to a young man dying of leukemia.
DIRECTOR: Joel Schumacher
CAST: Julia Roberts, Scott Campbell, Vincent D'Onofrio, Colleen Dewhurst, David Selby
RATING: R (sex, language)
) RUNNING TIME: 110 minutes