RUNNING -- AMC Carrollton, Buckingham, Capri, K-B Fine Arts, K-B Georgetown Square, Loehmann's, Springfield Mall.

If it didn't star Michael Douglas, famous for "China Syndrome" and "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," "Running" could be written off as just another bad movie. But a lot of people are going to rush to see this film because of Douglas' previously demonstrated high standards.

A lot of people are going to be awfully disappointed.

As it does to so many people, running seems to have brought out the latent sap in Douglas. (It's all that bouncing around -- jars the brain.) Why else would he have gotten mixed up in such a fiasco? Billed as a heartwarmer, his film is not only uninspirational, but excruciatingly slow-paced.

Douglas plays a wishy-washy, ineffectual sort whose wife has supported him and their two kids for the past 12 years while he's been off "finding" himself. He's dropped out of law school, dropped out of med school, dropped out of track meets and, most recently, got fired from his job as a shoe-store clerk. With a history like that, it's not surprising that nobody believes him when he announces he's in training for the Olympics. He runs past his kids' school, and all the other kids laugh and make fun. The meanies.

Who knows, maybe all this could have been made into a good movie. Certainly the phenomenon of running and its obsessive-compulsive hold on people was ripe to be exploited. But under the quadruple curse of a ludicrous script, misguided casting, incompetent acting and inept direction, "Running" never gets rolling. We're never given a reason to think of Douglas as anything but a jerk. Okay, a sensitive jerk, but that doesn't make him any more interesting.For almost two hours all he does is blather about failing.

The dialogue alternates between hackneyed and pretentious: "I was so afraid of losing, you understand?" "But don't you see, we're all afraid."

Or: "If you don't win in this life, you lose."

Or: "Hey Michael . . . sign my cast? I got a feeling you're gonna make Olympic history!"

And: "Daddy . . . I'm sorry I doubted you!" This from his 12-year-old, no less.

"Running" is also a love poem to the Olympics, and as such there are lots of lyric scenes of rosy-cheeked athletes, cheering crowds, flags flapping briskly in the wind, torches blazing and other upbeat shots. Unfortunately, we also get the flip side: long, involved scenes of athletes carrying their trays around in the cafeteria, or getting room assignments. These boring vignettes seem to go on forever.By the time Douglas finally does resolve his little difficulties, we've long since lost interest. "Plodding" would have been a more accurate title.