Did someone start a wild rumor that slummy lovers would be all the rage this season? Nothing to it, of course, but the newly arrived French loser "Loulou" seems to operate under such a delusion.

To put it another way, what else could you do with characters so complacently worthless? The commercial lure of "Loulou" (which opened last weekend at the West End Circle) must have been the casting of Gerard Depardieu and Isabelle Huppert, who rose to prominence in Bertrand Blier's great comedy of contemporary depravity, "Going Places." Here they go again as shameless young hedonists, with Huppert inheriting a role that had been rejected by Miou-Miou, the leading lady of "Going Places."

Lacking the satiric vision or cinematic finesse of a Blier, director Maurice Pialat leaves "Loulou" mired in a sordid rut. Preoccupied with a tawdry situation that has long since lost novelty value, he also depicts it tediously, accumulating a series of redundant improvisations that recall John Cassavettes at his most arbitrary while never rising above amoral clich.

The material might be better served by a title like "Les Incorrigibles." Nelly, fed up with her doting, jealous husband Andre, some kind of advertising gent played by Guy Marchand, has taken up with Loulou, a studly lout who lives off girlfriends and petty criminal activities. "I prefer a loafer who f---- to a rich guy who bugs me," Nelly declares, expressing a partiality that looks absurdly formulated from the outset.

Unable to live with her or without her, Andre keeps begging Nelly to return after blowing up, slapping her around and kicking her out. Loulou, reasoning that reliable stud service satisfies his part of the domestic bargain, is content to let Nelly support them by continuing to work for her tormented spouse. For the longest time Pialat seems to belabor the same two sequences: Nelly getting into a fight with Andre and then Nelly bedding down with Loulou. A glutton for punishment, as it were.

This monotonous impasse is interrupted by Nelly's expedient pregnancy, which allegedly poses the question, Will paternity reform Loulou? He promises it will, but she has grave doubts, so an abortion restores the status quo.

Though not exactly ready for middle-aged character roles, Depardieu is getting a bit long in the tooth for leather-jacketed gigolos. Fleeting echoes from Brando invite unintentional laughter, especially a scene where Loulou staggers home with a knife wound and breaks down the apartment door, rousing both Nelly and a fetching houseguest from slumber. Although the moment seem ideal for a switch to three-cornered sex farce, Pialat insists on keeping a straight face.

A comedienne as animated and charming as Miou-Miou might have shifted the emphasis away from the humdrum, slice-of-bohemia objectivity sustained by Pialat. Under the dreary circumstances, pouty-pussed Isabelle Huppert seems a definitive choice -- the thrill-seeking femme fatale as sullen, impassive baby doll. She also gets a definitive conjugal scene.Trying to console Andre for her lack of ardor, Nelly says, "It's not that I don't want to, but I don't feel like moving." This ingenious rationalization also sums up the Huppert's acting style.