HARDCORE -- Jenifer Cinema II, New Carrollton, K-B Cinema 7, K-B Langley, Marlow, Roth's Silver Spring West, Springfield Mall, Tysons Cinema.

Far from exploring the world of pornography for the sake of getting dirty scenes into a major movie, "Hardcore" is a sophisticated film that damns the sophisticated view of pornography.

In this morality play of wholesome vs. hardcore, wholesome is not corny but beautiful, and hardcore is not harmless but vicious.

George C. Scott gives one of his temple-throbbing performances as a Dutch Calvinist furniture manufacturer in Grand Rapids, Michigan, who chases his runaway daughter through California's sex underworld. But except for one ambiguous faltering moment at the end of Paul Scrader's film, this is a character who will not succumb to stinging buzzwords. He is, as he says, middle-class, Midwestern, family-oriented and religious. And he is all these things with dignity, love, understanding and even tolerance for all that, although different, is still tolerable.

The danger of this character's slipping into caricature must have been enormous. One flicker of erotic interest as he battles his way through the hellish world of salable sex would have done it. That moment at the end, in which he suggests to his daughter that he may not have known how to express his love for her, comes close to doing it; the opening glimpse we have of him at a family Christmas is enough to establish that he deserves no such cheap blame. It will be easier to fix blame on the sex peddlers, should their children react and become religious fanatics.

There are, instead, marvelous scenes in which he chokes down his disgust for the sake of his quest, and in which he experiences amusement at the attempts of a poor little tough girl to pit values with him.

As a manufacturer, he makes sleek modern chairs, but his own home is furnished with solid if fusty comfort. He enjoys arguing church doctrine with his relatives.He is a man, he explains, who simply doesn't care who's on the Johnny Carson show. He is, in short, sophisticated.