Looking on the bright side, perhaps it's perferable that a young star as attractive as Christopher Reeve should blunder into a minor embarrassment like "Somewhere in Time" early in his career. The next time an equally swoony opportunity arises, he may be immune to the temptation.

Meanwhile, there's no denying that Reeve got himself in a ludicrous fix: caught up in a harebrained throwback to time-travel romantic fantasies like "Portrait of Jennie" and "Berkeley Square." Reeve can't prevent his character -- a contemporary playwright who becomes obsessed with the photo and legend of a beautiful Edwardian actress, impersonated most desirably by Jane Seymour -- from degenerating into a lovelorn laughing stock.

Director Jeanot Szwarc, possibly overindulging what the studio calls "his incurable French sense of romanticism," appears to go out of his way to make Reeve squirm. The questing smitten hero, named Richard Collier, is embedded in cliches; gauzy cinematography, smothering music (including snippets from Rachmaninoff's Paganni Rhapsody inserted in ways that reduce it to a running gag) and intensely gauche expressions of undying ardor.

It's unlikely that any young actor could finesse some of the idiocies required of Reeve. For example, when the hero is overwhelmed by a dazzling light that emanates from a vintage photograph of the actress he falls in love with, it doesn't help for Reeve to blink at the glare, pronounced as it is. If certain directors are too wrong-headed to protect him from superfluous gestures, Reeve would be well advised to protect himself.

Whether the glaring dramatic weaknesses derive from the source material -- Richard Matheson's 1976 novel "Bid Time Return" -- or were imposed in Mathieson's screen adaption, they're unfortunate. Given his profession, Collier seems seriously deficient in eloquence, perception or historical imagination. The devices used to trigger and rationalize his journey into the past are rather inadequate. It all seems to come down to wishing hard enough while dressed in old-fashioned clothes. Couldn't there be some sense of dissatisfaction with the present of a profound emotional or imaginative attraction to another period?

Having projected himself back to 1912 and wooed the object of his passion, Collier is returned to the present by equally arbitrary means: He finds a 1979 penny and loses his concentration. The reconciliation of Collier and the actress, called Elise McKenna, seems even more of a fizzle -- so much so, in fact, that it's difficult to be stirred by the reunion. The absence of ingenious plot mechanisms to facilitate the hero's time-traveling makes one appreciate the usefulness of a Time Machine. This story needs one desperately.Somehow, time tokens just won't do.

You realize what Reeve is up against when Collier is propelled back to the present. Grieving for his lost love, he mopes around the magical photo, caressing it and pressing his sorrowful cheek against the glass. At the same time Reeve is compelled to hoist and balance himself on tiptoe, because the damn picture is mounted a bit too high even for an actor who stands 6-feet-4.

"Somewhere in Time" can be casually enjoyed as a harmless laughter, and it boasts an impressive locale, the magnificent old Grand Hotel on Michigan's Mackinac Island. The most regrettable aspect of the film is not its romantic sappiness but its failure to capitalize on the authentic, natural romantic allure projected by Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour.

There is a considerable amount of photogenic gratification in seeing a couple this beautiful on the screen. When their faces -- and particularly their profiles -- are expressively juxtaposed, the screen seems romantically illuminated. The farfetched love affair is validated not by the plot but by the way the costars look togethere. Their images suggest a mystical, idealized affinity that could very easily defy the barriers of time within imagination. The devices used to trigger and rationalize his journey into the past are rather inadequate. It all seems to come down to wishing hard enough while dressed in old-fashioned clothes. Couldn't there be some sense of dissatisfaction with the present of a profound emotional or imaginative attraction to another period?

Having projected himself back to 1912 and wooed the object of his passion, Collier is returned to the present by equally arbitrary means: He finds a 1979 penny and loses his concentration. The reconciliation of Collier and the actress, called Elise McKenna, seems even more of a fizzle -- so much so, in fact, that it's difficult to be stirred by the reunion. The absence of