THE NIGHT THE LIGHTS WENT OUT IN GEORGIA -- At the AMC Academy, Hampton Mall, Herndon Twin, Lee Highway Drive-In, Rolling Valley Mall, Showcase Andrews Manor, Showcase Beacon Mall, University and Wheaton Plaza.

American picaresque is now a recognizable category of minor film. The story is always that of scruffy by lovable young people, poor and uneducated but with inborn artistry of one kind or another, who wind their adventurous way toward fame and fortune in Hollywood or Nashville.

"The Nights the Lights Went Out in Georgia" is typical: An ophaned sister and brother, played by Kristy McNichol and Dennis Quaid, are on an odyssey through the South, falling in and out of trouble and love, with the eventual goal of musical stardom in Nashville.

In this game, it's better to have actual musical stars, rather than just popular actors, carrying the fragile theme. That not only helps establish the idea that there's enough talent to make the goal believable, but makes the film worthwhile on the basis of its musical interludes.

It's better to give some dramatic evidence of these adventurers' appeal than to show people going made over them, without the moviegoer's being able to understand why.

And it's better not to put too much bathos into their condition, so as to raise the cynical question of exactly why these people think they deserve, more than anyone else, to be heaped with rewards.

In this film, the sister's attachment to her brother is so overplayed that it begins to look like unrequited incest; why such characters as Mark Hamill (playing a starry-eyed state trooper) should consider it a privilege to devote themselves to the pair is not shown; and their confidence of national success is left dubious.

Still, such a vehicle is not expected to be completely sound dramatically; and like the couple's truck, it's good enough for a short excursion.