Clint Eastwood's last vehicle, "The Gauntlet," displayed fascinating schizophrenic tendencies. The obligatory massive firepower and sullen implacability associated with Eastwood's starring vehicles were moderated somewhat by romantic and sentimental yearnings. The film had a weird consistency: brutal on the outside, mellow on the inside. It appeared that the star might be signaling his desire to break out of the prosperous confinement of his strongman persona.

Eastwood must have thought of his blundering new vehicle, "Every Which Way but Loose," as a change of pace, designed to align his career in a direction similar to that of Burt Reynolds. Casual, knockabout farce seems to be the general idea, but perhaps Eastwood should have borrowed the director and writers who helped shap "Smokey and the Bandit" and "Hooper" for Reynolds. "Every Which Way but Loose" certainly isn't loose.It's a sluggish shambles. The aimless, repetitive continuity makes it difficult to believe that the writer of record, Jeremy Joe Kronsberg, really invented a screenplay. At best there are "ingredients": Eastwood as a brawling trucker; Sondra Locke as an aspiring country and western singer who turns his head and provokes him into romantic puruit; Ruth Gordon as his improbable, irritable foul-mouthed mother; Keystone Kop antagonists in the form of farcical Hell's Angels as well as farcical cops; an animal sidekick, in this case an orangutan evidently trained to perfect two tricks, pretending to drop dead at the sound of a mock gunshot and giving the finger to scroungy motorcyclists.

These ingredients remain so many lumpy possibilities waiting to be sifted and blended into a digestible humorous confection. At any given moment in the film one may pick up the stirring spoon, in a manner of speaking, and find the batter in an unready state of gloppiness. The lack of a purposeful or even casually amusing design reduces the footage to two hours of recurrent dumb jokes and fisticuffs.

Among other pointless miscalculations, why go to the facetious trouble of casting Gordon and Eastwood as mother and child and then neglect to provide some interplay between them? Although the orangutan, named Clyde, pads around with an eccentric, rocking gait that looks like a parody of Ruth Gordon playing cracked old ladies, no one connected with the production seems to notice the affinity and put it to practical use.

Who is it supposed to gratify when Locke exposes herself as a selfish bitch who's just been stringing Eastwood along? In his one confidential moment with Clyde, Eastwood says, "I ain't afraid of any man alive, but when I try to tell my feelings to a woman, my stomach goes all to jelly."

The story is manipulated in a way that justifies the hero's awkwardness with the opposite sex, which is simply out to deceive him. Are the trucker and the ape destined for a contented bacherlorhood, with evenings out together hitting the bars and the porno movie parlors?

During the film's oddest sequence Eastwood does indeed escort Clyde hand-in-hand through the tenderloin. After they presumably leave a porno show, Eastwood decides that Clyde needs immediate gratification and rushes him out to the zoo for an after-hours tryst with one of the girls in the monkeyhouse. "Boy," he says upon their arrival, "I'll bet there's a gal in there."

Evidently intended to be a knee slapper, this interlude inspires some acute apprehensions about the mental processes of Eastwood and his brain trust. Is pimping for an orangutan just what the star needed to lighten or humanize his image? I didn't think so, but then who am I to say?

Eastwood's he-man image, as reflected in the mere content of starring vehicles like "Every Which Way but Loose," is becoming as bewilderingly grotesque as Jane Fonda's projection of neo-feminist virtue in "Coming Home" and "Comes a Horseman." Perhaps it's time for these twain to meet in the sadomasochistic Hollywood sex farceof the decade, a kind of "African Queen" for the self-righteous '70s.