THE HUNTER -- Allen, AMC Academy 6, AMC Skyline 6, Embassy Circle, K-B Crystal, K-B Georgetown Square, Landover, Oxon Hill, Springfield Cinema, Town Center Laurel.

The general failure of the summer movie season has been attributed among other things, to the "miscasting" of popular stars. Robert Redford in "Brubaker," Clint Eastwood in "Bronco Billy," Burt Reynolds in "Rough Cut" -- none was displaying the characteristics that audiences have come to expect.

The same will probably be said of Steve McQueen in "The Hunter," where he plays a loner who single-handedly rounds up toughs who have jumped bail (which is just what his fans would expect) but lays him as a fusty clod.

This bounty hunter can't drive properly and attracts a jeering crowd every time he tries to parallel-park. His pregnant girl friend says she loves him but refuses, after eight years, to make an honest man of him. He's the only prospective father in his Lamaze class who is flunking out. A juvenile delinqunet he befriends offers in gratitude to fix his TV, toaster and tape recorder and he can't put any of them back together. His own dog doesn't like him and growls nastily whenever he tries to pet it.

And yet this amusing idea for a character -- based on the life of Ralph Torson who appears for a minute on screen as an overly competent bartender -- is a flop. The picture is embarrassing.

One reason is that it's so badly written.Ted Leighton and Peter Hyams' screenplay, based on a book by Christopher Keane (who also sticks his face into the movie for a minute), is devoid of a sense of timing for either comedy or suspense. The picture just rattles on without building, repeating the same jokes over and over and allowing the standard Senseless Killer, who makes even less sense than usual, to slip out of the plot and our minds.

But the blame will probably be attached to McQueen's having ventured away from what he does. (One doesn't know if it's what he does best.) It's not that he's hopeless in mild comedy, but only that he's so obviously a beginner at it.

The repeated failure of some of our most popular actors to move out of their specialty parts suggests that there may be something fundamentally wrong with the film acting profession, or the demands of its audience. Do we resent having made them stars on the basis of one type, only to have them then attempt to learn acting on our time, as it were? Or is presonality just more attractive on film than acting?

We call them actors, after all. And while having a commanding presence or an endearing personality may be a tremendous bit of luck or talent, these are not quite the same as the art of creating characters. One does not see artists in other fields acclaimed for being able to do only one set piece; and the great actors of the theater have been proudest of their virtuousity, of the ability to convince people they are someone else.

And yet in films, what audiences reward is the actor who has created one persona and does only that. It may be that the stars who flopped when they strayed from their personae weren't capable of doing anything else, but it may also be that audiences demand to see their favorites as celebrity-personalities, not doing the job of actors.

Ironically, acting has become sort of an odd sub-specialty for those who can't be personalities. The late Peter Sellers made his great success as an actor sound like a second choice when he said, "I am a character actor. I couldn't play Peter Sellers -- the way Cary Grant plays Cary Grant, for instance -- because I have no concrete image of myself. But I could do one helluva Cary Grant."