GLORIA -- AMC Academy, Loehmann's Plaze, NTI Landover, NTI Marlow, NTI White Flint, Roth's Tyson's Corner, Springfield Mall, West End Circle and Wheaton Plaza.

Forget the plot, which strains the imagination more than once. Forget the dialogue, which ranges from mildly improbale to downright ludicrous. In "Gloria," Gena Rowlands turns in a Grade-A performance that outshines every flaw the movie has.

Director John Cassavetes has cast Rowland, his wife, as a mobster in the grand tradition of Cagney or Bogart. Make that a former mobster. Now retired, Gloria (Swenson, no less) is living in the South Bronx minding her own business when a neighbor, on the verge of being bumped off by the Mafia, begs her to take her son. "I don't like kids," Gloria snarls. "I hate kids. Especially your kids." But she's a softy so she takes Phil, a six-year-old boy.

A natural-born mommy she ain't. "I've got some goldfish in the bedroom," she tells Phil,a.k.a. "kid," when they get to her apartment. "Ya wanna play with 'em?" No answer. Meanwhile his parents are getting blown up down the hall.

They've got to get out of town; the mob is after the kid and this book of his father's, which Names Names. Everywhere they go they're followed. No problem -- Gloria just shoots every punk, banana and bimbo that gets in her way. Still, there are plenty of mobsters to go around, and they've got all the train, plane and bus stations covered. It doesn't occur to Gloria to rent a car (maybe she doesn't drive?) so she and the kid spend most of the movie riding around New York in cabs, subways and buses, staying in fleabag hotels and slowly building mutual trust.

There are liberal doses of comic relief. As when Gloria shoots a whole carful of bad guys, stares stunned at the resulting car crash and quick whistles for a taxi. The cab driver's all excited: "That was some accident!" Gloria: "Yeah, well, we're not interested in accidents . . ."

As the kid, John Adames, a handsome, pint-sized smoothie, is a natural. "You're so stoo pid sometimes," he says to Gloria. Or, admiringly, "You're so tough ." She really is. She has a whole wardrobe of padded shoulder suits she carries around town in a suitcase and steams out in flophouse bathrooms. No new clothes for the kid, but God forbid she should run out of gun-moll outfits.

There are these credibility problems: If the kid's father's book is so important, why does she let the kid carry it out in the open? Why does she let him carry it at all? Why doesn't she buy some disguise? Or at least a good pair of walking shoes?

No matter. A jazzy score and a lot of ominous overhead shots keep this movie moving right along. There are also skillful supporting performances by Buck Henry and Julie Carmen as Phil's doomed parents, and as bonus: no blood. People get bumped off right and left, but this is not a gory movie.

It's just a hell of a lot of fun.