As grand prix driver Bobby Deerfield, actor Al Pacino plays claim of a man whose protective shell is cracked by a dying woman named Lillian (Marthe Keller). Unfortunately, the emotional coming-out tastes as flat as old soda and makes for a tale with all the torrid firepower of a recycled "Love Story."

"Deerfield" has been touted as Pacino's first "romantic" role, a chance for him to stunt his sexy pout, puff out a hairy chest and brood a la Brando in a drama of the gestalt.

Yet Pacino and the plot fall victim to each other, there isn't enough of either to go around. In "Dog Day Afternoon," "Serpico" and "The Godfather" (parts 1 and 11) - roles that sent him up four times for Oscar nominations - Pacino's characters were juxtaposed the backdrop of dramatic narrative (blaring bullhorns, Harlem drug busts, etc.) and bristled with surface tension. In "Deerfield," the one fiery crash he survives is about as exciting as a go-kart bouncing off a bale of hay.

"Deerfield's" producer-director Sydney Pollack ("The Way We Were," "Three Days of the Condor," "They Shoot Horses, Don't They?") serves up such a palty portion of conflict, in fact, you couldn't bounce a rubber ball off it.

Screenwriter Alvin Sargent's dialogue, deliberately sparse to make way for the character's struggles after inner nuance, left screening-room critics in the back row gigling like schoolkids at some secret joke.

Marthe Keller, the Swiss actress who contributed to the sizzle of "Marathon Man" and "Black Sunday," tries hard as Deerfield's flighty, spontaneous lover, at one point declining a weekend in the country with the race driver because she finds him boring.

"I don't think you could keep me interested for a whole weekend," she says. Nor can "Bobby Deerfield," for just two hours.