STRAIGHT TIME - ACADEMY 6, K-B CERBERUS, ROTH'S MT. VERNON, TURNPIKE AND WHEATON PLAZA. Warner Brothers gave away the first clue that "Straight Time," the Dustin Hoffman as-ex-con downer, just might be a flop: They refused to let critics pre-screen the film. Hoffman gave away the second clue: He sued Warner Brothers, the distributor, and First Artists, the film's production company he owns part interest in, claiming breach of contract - essentially, that he was denied the final edit.

Hoffman's claim that what was left out may be better than what was put in hardly matters: What we see is what we get. Debating who did what, with and to whom gets us about as far as flogging a dead mule.

Yet, it's obvious why Hoffman wants to disassociate himself from the film. What makes "Straight Time" so crooked is almost everything in it.

Based on ex-convict Edward Bunker's novel "No Beast So Fierce," the film is a predictable drag, the tale of born-to-lose parolee Max Dembo (Hoffman). At the outset, he tries to go straight, finds someone to love (Theresa Russell) and gets a job. The sympathetic, if contrived, portrait of struggling ex-con abruptly zig-zags into Max-as-mad dog. A sadistic parole officer (J. Emmet Walsh) is designed to bethe straw that breaks Max's back. All of a sudden Max is running from the law again, this time with an old fed-up-with-suburbia buddy (Harry Dean Stanto) and another knock-kneed ex-con (Gary Busey).

Hoffman as Max doesn't approach his "Midnight Cowboy" pathos. And the film's ingredients stir into a very lumpy porridge, indeed, a poor man's "Bonny and Clyde." But the talented Hoffman should be allowed at least one tribe bummer. We can a120;lways turn to "Kojak" in search of high drama.