"No Mercy" (R, selected theaters) is a gaudy love-on the run thriller with a fish-out-of-water twist. If you wanted to flatter it--and some of it deserves flattery--you could call it film noir moderne.

Here, the love-and-runners are rebellious Chicago cop Eddie Jillette (Richard Gere) and fiery New Orleans moll Michel Dubal (Kim Basinger). Jillette is Dirty Harry, garnished with Serpico, and Michel is Brigitte Bardot, with Cajun hot sauce. They meet over candlelight in an Old Town restaurant, Jillette posing as a hit man hired to snuff Michel's boyfriend, a kill-crazy Creole crime czar named Losado (Jeroen Krabbe). Right away, sparks strike. Michel's eyes blaze. Eddie smacks her one. (It must be love.)

Before you can say a four-letter word--or scenarist Jim Carabatsos can write one--Eddie's partner is dead, and he and Michel are handcuffed together, racing through the Lousiana bayous, with Losado's henchmen only a knife-throw behind. No mercy, no mush. (The characters here even describe a kiss as "swapping spit.") Only a murder could bring this couple together and only a holocaust could seal their betrothal. The film makers don't disappoint you.

"No Mercy" is a sexy, atmospheric action picture that ought to give you a racy good time. But something goes wrong. You feel the actors and movie makers are too good for this material, even though there's a lot to distract you: Patrizia Von Brandenstein's luxuriant or squalid decors, Basinger's high-cheekbone, high-voltage sensuality, Gere's nervy magnetism.

It's not a film that you'd expect from either director Richard Pearce--who made the marvelous "Heartland" and caught near-definitive images of the rural Midwest in "Country"--or his great Canadian cinematographer, Michel Brault ("Mon Oncle Antoine"). Their work usually has more feeling, more substance. (So has Gere's and Basinger's.) Perhaps they all thought this was a potential smash with something extra, a movie with all the elements. In the end, they're at the mercy of those elements.

Screenwriter Carabatsos' style is flashy, thin, sub-Oliver Stone: as much here as in his current Clint Eastwood hit, "Heartbreak Ridge." (The characters swap spit in that one, too.) On the surface, his dialogue seems tough, scalding, profane. But it lacks Stone's black conviction or hip elegance.

The movie is so macho , Michel doesn't even get her name feminized. But there's always a coy, posturing edge to it. The characters seem to be into kinky wordplay, badinage and discipline: trying to outwit each other with new fornication or defecation metaphors, new mock-homosexual wisecracks. No one has another individual voice--except for the villains and heroine, who barely have one at all. Like many of the newer screenwriters, Carabatsos doesn't really write from the inside; he wears his guts on his sleeve. It's a dazzlingly filmed and acted synopsis.

Some recent movies, notably "Mona Lisa," made a dialectic of love and violence. "No Mercy" simply teases around and glosses it over. Handcuffs and slaughter under the bayou moonlight: W1769236512anniversary? Wife-swap with the couple from "Year of the Dragon?" Reminisce on their first enchanted moments--when her boyfriend crashed through the wall with a knife in his teeth and the room burned up around them?

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