Following a roasting by New York's film critics, United Artists took the extraordinary action yesterday of canceling the release of "Heaven's Gate," one of the most expensive and highly touted movies ever made.

The 36-million western starring Kris Kristofferson, Isabelle Huppert, and Christopher Walken was directed by Michael Cimino, who won an Academy Award last year for "The Deer Hunter."

It was Cimino who requested yesterday afternoon that United Artists not release the film until he has had a chance to rework it, a company spokesman said.

The movie was scheduled to open in Los Angeles and Toronto tomorrow. It opened yesterday at the Cinema I in New York. A UA spokesman said that the company would try to pull the film out of the New York theater.

A Hollywood premiere of "Heaven's Gate" set for tonight with 1,200 invited guests was also canceled.

Cimino, who worked on the movie for more than two years, told UA that in order to meet a deadline, he had allowed his film to be prematurely released.

The version that showed before the preview audiences and in New York for one day ran three hours and 39 minutes.

"Nothing in the movie works properly," wrote the New York Times' film critic, Vincent Canby, in yesterday's review. "For all the time and money that went into it, it's jerrybuilt, a ship that slides straight to the bottom at its christening.

"Mr. Cimino's approach to his subject is so predictable that watching the film is like a forced four-hour walking tour of one's own living room."

Two hours into New York preview, a member of the audience reportedly asked Kristofferson, "When does something happen?" His answer: I don't know."

United Artists had booked "Heaven's Gate" into three theaters in New York, Toronto, and Hollywood in order to qualify it for Academy Award consideration. Plans called for the film to be released widely, in a few hundred theaters, in late February.

"The February date is now up for grabs," a UA spokesman said.

The cancellation of the release of "Heaven's Gate" is the latest chapter in a long and complicated tale surrounding Cimino's movie about cattle rustling in Wyoming during the 1890s.

The film's initial budget was reportedly $12 million and mushroomed to $36 million.

Cimino kept his movie away from the executives at UA. Most of the company's management first saw the picture when it was premiered in New York. c