Good intentions should not come to a bad end. If this is not an old Indian saying, perhaps the experience of "Windwalker" will make it a new one.

"Windwalker," a film about the Cheyenne in the 18th century, is all good intentions. When the characters speak, they speak in different Indian languages and the lines are translated with subtitles. The cast of 60 is entirely Indian, except for the two actors who play the title role at different ages, and whatever the professional or personal feelings of Trevor Howard, other members of the company have made it known that he was hired because the Indian to whom the part had first been offered declined for reasons of health. Little attempt has been made to soften the more offensive tribal customs, such as leaving the old and sick to die when it's time to move on. In fact, the hero's first act of heroism consists of horse theft.

The plot, taken from a novel by Blaine M. Yorgason, has the sparse and simple form of a legend. Its theme, of separated twins and divided loyalties, is one of the most ancient and universal myths.

And yet for all its authenticity and scenic and human beauty, this film, directed by Kieth Merrill, often slides into being ridiculous.

Perhaps it's the what-hit-me look on the hero's face when, having received a scaffold burial accompanied by the mournful tears of his descendants before they migrate south, he realizes that he hasn't died. Or the shy- but-loaded wordless look his bride keeps giving him, first in life and then from the skies. Or the this-is-just-a-terrible-day resignation with which he finds he has to battle a bear when he thought it was finally naptime. Or the delayed-reaction where-did-you- come-from look of his family when grandpa comes back from the grave just when they need him, and wearing a new bear coat.

That's when good intentions on the part of the audience, of appreciating a restrained and meticulous Indian film, are not going to save them from the giggles.

WINDWALKER -- At 15 area theaters.