A SMALL CIRCLE OF FRIENDS -- AMC Academy, Fair City Mall, Landover Mall, Mercado, Outer Circle and White Flint.

As "A Small Circle of Friends" begins, Robert Redford clone Jameson Parker is bicycling merrily along when he spots his old girlfriend (Karen Allen) getting into a taxi. He bikes madly after her, cuts across an alley, gets hit by the taxi, flies many feet through the air, crashed into a wall, pulls himself up to her car window by bloodied fingertips, looks into her eyes and says: "Jessie? That you?"

This would be chronicle of the '60s has many faults, but foremost among them is its script -- of which the preposterous opening scene is just the tip of the iceberg. The plot, which follows the lives of three Harvard students through the decade, never even approaches believability.

The fact that the leading characters are idiots doesn't help. Jessie, a budding artist, turns to her boyfriend and says, "I've been thinking . . . Maybe I can actually say something with my paintings. bWhat do you think?" Leonardo, the campus radical, writes an article on the cafeteria short-order cook's son being drafted and calls it "Jimmy the Cook -- One Son to Go." Nick, a repressed pre-med student, can't show emotion because, you guessed it, his dad told him boys don't cry.

Our three pals romp earnestly through the decade, going to anti-war rallies, using drugs, living together. They get drafted, hang presidents in effigy and get their consciousnesses raised. Their friends are either neo-Buddhists or anarchists or women's libbers or draft dodgers. Everything they do reeks with relevance.

The 1960s were indeed an interesting and tumultuous time. For a sense of what the decade was really like, though, you'd be better off catching "Strawberry Statement," "Getting Straight," or even something like "Hair," the next time those films are revived. Flawed as they are, they do a far better job conveying the excitement and idealism that once prevailed among college students.