BLOW OUT -- At the ABC Drive-In, AMC Carrollton, AMC Skyline, Avalon, Capitol Hill, Hampton Mall, Jerry Lewis Cinema, K-B Bethesda K-B Cerberus, K-B Studio, Laurel Drive-In, NTI White Flint, Old Town, Roth's College Park, Roth's Quince Orchard, Roth's Tysons Corner, Showcase Bradlick and Wheaton Plaza.

Never let it be said that Brian DePalma doesn't have a sense of humor. That doesn't mean he's particularly funny, mind you, but he does have a sense of humor.

"Blow Out," his latest film, opens with a sexy little parody of schlock horror films (this one is called Co-ed Frenzy") and gradually unfolds into a suspense thriller which, Cuisnart-like, mixes elements of Watergate, Chappaquiddick and other bits of political chicanery into a lumpy broth of intrigue and murder.

John Travolta plays a movie soundman who's out taping effects for "Co-ed Frenzy" when he sees, hears and records a tire exploding and a car swerving off a bridge and into a river. travolta to the rescue. He dives in. The man at the wheel is absolutely dead. The girl with him (Nancy Allen) is frantically alive. Travolta gets her to the surface just in time.

The dead man turns out to be a senator who's touted as the next President of the United States, and friends of the good senator impress on Travolta and Allen that they don't wish the family to know that the senator's last moments were spent with a lady who wasn't his wife. First level cover-up.

But, of course, it wasn't a tire blow-out that sent the car careening off the bridge -- it was a gunshot. A gunshot that Travolta has captured on tape. The cover-up isn't for an accident -- it's for an assassination.

Then the murder merry-go-round begins. The assassin (John Lithgow), a menacing student of the G. Gordon Liddy school of covert initiative, wants to snip a few loose ends -- meaning Travolta and Allen.

Travolta, in the meantime, is doing everything he can to find out who's behind the cover-up and assassination. He's become obsessed with knowing who they are. DePalma takes not just a page but a full chapter from Coppola's "The Conversation" by constantly playing off the technology of sound and having Travolta run through the vital tape again and again. In between playbacks, Travolta's also falling in love with Allen -- a whiney voiced cosmetics counter-girl at Korvettes.

Travolta is very good as the wired-up soundman. His performance is nice and clean and the treacly sentiment that does creep in is by design. Nancy Allen, on the other hand, whines a bit too much for my taste although she does have (as her husband DePalma likes to show us) a great pair of legs.

As the assassin, Lithgow is wonderfully versatile and meancing. Keeping the blood to a tidy minimum, he murders effieiently and with dispatch. He's the sort of pro you'd imagine having drinks with Liddy at the target range after his latest assignment was over.

Beautifully photographed, "Blow Out" is filled with humorous asides and inside jokes. It has the usual mix of DePalma's horror, humor and tension. And that's part of the problem. "Blow Out" isn't a particularly creative or startling film. For all of its imagery and surrealistic qualities, the surprises are mild ones and the twists are more gentle than crackling.At times, there's a bit too much slack in what's supposed to be a taut edge-of-your-seat thriller.

Playing with and making fun of paranoia is a DePalma specialty and he does it well. There are some very chilling touches in "Blow Out." It's a good solid movie -- but it won't blow you away.