Energetic direction and savvy casting might have transformed "Rollover" into amusing romantic kitsch -- a left-wing variation on "The Thomas Crown Affair" or even "The Fountainhead." Lacking the necessary gusto and sexual chemistry, "Rollover" is doomed by an excess of huffing and puffing.

A doomsday thriller about international bankers and financial conspirators, "Rollover" derives its title from the euphemism for reinvesting bank deposits. Where "The China Syndrome" exploited fear of the nuclear power industry, "Rollover" attempts to exploit fear of monetary collapse, provoked by the financial manipulations of sinister, inscrutable Saudis, who remain The Menace despite the tactical deployment of Hume Cronyn as their American connection, an investment banker who outsmarts himself.

A curiously twisted, if simple-minded, line of reasoning emerges from the plot contrived by David Shaber, Howard Kohn and David Weir. The screenwriters seem pleased to fantasize a financial panic leading to anarchic breakdown. They go on to suggest that this dire event might not be so bad after all; indeed, it might be downright wholesome and character-building for everyone to start from scratch. What they fail to acknowledge is the likelihood that the country -- and probably the entire industrialized world -- would feel obliged to respond to the crisis by threatening those double-crossing Saudis with speedy annihilation. It seems disingenuous to ignore this "solution" to the "problem."

Despite posh accessories and surroundings, Jane Fonda and leading man Kris Kristofferson seem oddly haggard as well as mismatched -- two rawboned impostors who can't believe in themselves as a dynamic, voluptuous erotic duo. Their skepticism is well-founded.

Fonda plays a former movie-star-turned-corporate-adventuress named Lee Winters, the widow of a business executive whose mysterious murder gets the plot rolling -- and remains something of a baffler when the movie ends. One gathers -- unintentionally, I think -- that Mr. and Mrs. Winters shared a marriage of convenience, since Fonda responds to Kristofferson, a virile maverick banker called Hub Smith, with decisive intimacies on short acquaintance and a minimum of verbal foreplay. Devotees of "The Fountainhead" will recognize blissfully nutty affinities when Kristofferson, boldly backlit, enters Fonda's elegant bedchamber clutching a champagne bottle in one hand and glasses in the other. The upshot is milady's grateful testimonial to her new lover's prowess: "I feel like the sack of Carthage."

Taking care of business on the financial front too, Hub arranges a loan with Arab investors to earn his hard-pressed bank a handsome commission while enhancing Lee's desire to succeed her late unlamented as chairman of the board. The scheme backfires and the lovers begin to distrust and deceive one another.

Director Alan J. Pakula's greatest failing is that he is unable to conceal the inadequacies of his leading players, and that little hitch does more damage in the long run. Kristofferson's first attempt at a debonair role may be shrugged off as a misguided experiment. The shocking revelation is that Fonda seems more miscast and uncomfortable than Kristofferson does.

While she used to project an endearing sexiness, in "Rollover" Fonda makes an overdemonstrative laughingstock of herself showing how stimulated Lee becomes at the nearness of dashing Hub. Maybe Fonda's technique is simply deteriorating as she continues to choose roles that belabor a particular stereotype -- Sheltered Woman in Radical Transition -- instead of revealing vividly individualized character traits. Whatever the excuse, she is teetering on the brink of vintage Hollywood amateurism in "Rollover." She even gets a line that sounds perversely prophetic: "I'm just an ex-movie star coasting into the sunset."