It's amazing how often bad movies call attention to their most fundamental shortcomings. In the middle of "The Big Fix," an uniformed cop asks the private-eye hero, Moses Wine, played by a slimmed-down but now smirky-pussed Richard Dreyfuss, "What kind of detective are YOU supposed to be?"

Oddly enough, the identical question tends to prey on your mind throughout the arbitrary, desultory course of "The Big Fix."

It's clear what Wine is intended to be: A traditional private eye revamped for Children of the Counter-culture. A "Cal" student and radical political agitator in the '60s. Wine has evolved into an obscure L.A. gunshoe in the '70s, struggling to keep up with support payments for his two young sons by an ex-wife preoccupied with cultivating her consciousness. At the urging of Lila Shea (Susan Anspach), an old girlfriend from Berkeley days, Wine takes a case calculated to mean something special: locating a fugitive radical crazy, an Abbie Hoffman surrogate named Howard Eppis, whose bogus endorsement threatens to torpedo the campaign of a liberal candidate for governor.

The movie dawdles and meanders almost from the outset. Lila, murdered quickly in the original novel by Roger L. Simon, is kept on screen for a couple of reels so Dreyfuss and Anspach can grin at each other and drive around aimlessly sharing wistful reflections and recollections. Duded up in his gaucho gigolo outfit and expecting a heavy date, Dreyfuss finally discovers a freshly murdered old flame in her apartment and proceeds to go all to pieces.

The character of Lila remains as expendable as it always was. If Wine needs a sidekick of the opposite sex, a more entertaining one can be found in his sarcastic Aunt Sonya, a delightfully opinionated old lady whose radicalism dates back to the Bolshevik Revolution.

Dreyfuss defies credibility in part because he looks physically slight, but then one doesn't expect Richard Dreyfuss to go around roughing up thugs. What one expects is evidence of superior intelligence and wit. "The Big Fix" is really sunk by one's ever-growing suspicion that the detective Dreyfuss pretends to be couldn't detect his way across the street.

The low point of the film is a scene in which Wine sheds tears of nostalgia looking at newsreel footage of street demonstrations from the '60s. You wouldn't be surprised to hear Barbra Streisand begin singing "The Way We Were."

All the corruption is eventually pinned on a symbol of the Old Establishment. It's a little difficult to determine what the significance of the '60s are imagined to be by the people who contrived this film. If the '60s weren't dead, movies like this should certainly help to obscure them once and for all.

Dreyfuss flits through "The Big Fix" looking smugly pleased with himself. Ditto for Jack Nicholson in "Goin' South" and George Segal in "Who Is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe'?' What is it with these actors? Is an epidemic of coyness overtaking Hollywood?