Whose idea of an appealing or timely project was "Cuba"?It is a desultory romantic melodrama that concludes by heralding the advent of Castro in a style reminiscent of Bertolucci's preposterous red-flags-flying finale to "1900." Did United Artists hope to play an out-of-season April Fool joke on theater owners in Miami? Some fun.

Now that director Richard Lester and screenwriter Charles Wood have failed so conspicuously to revive the spirit of "Casablanca" in Havana, circa 1959, I suppose it's too much to hope that they'll be allowed to turn this peculiar fiasco into a stupefying series. If Sean Connery and Brooke Adams were no longer available to squirm through Wood's disagreeable, complacently disillusioned notion of the old Bogart-Bergman motions, perhaps Clint Eastwood and Sondra locke could be conned into doing Saigon circa 1975, and Burt Reynolds and Cybill Shepherd into doing Tehran, circa 1979.

Lester and Wood have a history of idle, cynical or grandstanding that more or less scrapes rock bottom in "Cuba," now at several area theaters. Previously, they collaborated on "The knack" and "How I Won the War." Wood was also the screenwriter on Light Brigade." The same satiric caricature he practiced on the British officer class is applied to members of the cuban ruling class in the twilight of the Batista regime.

Castro's intentions scarcely matter in the social context sketched in by Lester and Wood. The corruption and dissolution of the prevailing regime are so much taken for granted, and treated as so many random opportunities for contemptuous satire, that there's never a hint of urgency in the atmosphere. The pillars of the old regime are gross, vainglorious clowns who parade their stupidity, cupidity and haughtiness for laughs before being ushered out by the noble, dignified fidelistas.

The myth of Castro's political virtue and historic mission may have been tarnished in the real world, but Lester and Wood make it easy on their consciences by condluding the plot as Castro ascends to power. If they have a vested emotional intrest in preserving an adulatory image of Castro, they're not the only ones. Even at this late date he remains the favorite charismatic dictator of many fashionable observers.

Connery is supposed to be an honest British soldier who comes out of retirement when offered a handsome sum to supervise counter-guerilla training for the Batista regime. Since the government forces are quickly revealed to be a rabble and their situation at once hopeless and morally indefensible, Connery devotes most of his time to trying to attract the attention and rekindle the lust of an old flame. Adams, the disillusioned wife of a rich playboy, Chris Sarandon.

There's a subplot involving Sarandon's affairwith a torrid worker from his cigar factory. Since his lover is played by the scintillating Lonette McKee, getting her first opportunity to make your pulse quicken since "Sparkle," the movie is not without incidental glamor. Indeed, its most effective stylistic device is David Watkin's glamor-puss color photograpy, saturated with vivid primary hues and alluring intimations of sensual pleasure. s

McKee, a fast girl of the people, has a bothersome revolutionery kid brother, Danny De La Paz, who keeps assassinating people while trying to get a bead on Sarandon.His role in the New Order remains unresolved, although the pricipal fidelista, a bearded philospher-commando who may have been educated by BBC Radio, brushes him aside patronizingly. The tepid revolutinary stew is also distractingly seasoned with Jack Weston as a fat yankee entrepreneur named Gutman, Denholm Elliott as a gun-running piolot and Martin Balsom as a smug Cuban General.

Although it's evidently supposed to evoke something romantic, the Connery-Adams affair is one of the most pointless, unsatisfying unions ever represented on the screen. If Wood envisioned a love story, it's certainly taken an eccentric form: zero gratification. As Connery departs revolutary Havana, you can't help thinking, "He certainly went on a wild goose chase." Audiences at "cuba" may be cursing themselves for letting Lester and Wood drag them along on such a superficial, unrewarding tour of Sinful Old Havana.