"An Officer and a Gentleman" is a John Wayne movie a liberal can live with. It's as muscular as its sexy leading man, Richard Gere. You can practically smell Old Spice when he's on screen, making his rugged, romantic rite of passage.

The film slipped out of its X-rating into something a little bit more comfortable, when editors reportedly cut some legendary loving between Gere and leading lady Debra Winger. But what they've still got to show us is hot enough. Chemistry at first sight. An affair as open as an unmade bed.

A bad band is playing "Tie a Yellow Ribbon" when the pair meets at a regimental ball at the Port Rainier Naval Aviation Officer Candidate School. AOC Zack Mayo (Gere) has just finished his fourth of 13 weeks of training and Paula Pokrifki (Winger) has ferried across the Sound to find herself a man. She's a "Puget deb," a 22-year- old millworker, with some Norma Rae in her, who reads "Cosmopolitan" to self-help herself into a wedding gown.

Zack, who learned his social skills from his non-com flotsam of a father, treats her like a whore. She's supportive, beguiling, but all he wants is to rise above his low-class past in the cockpit of a jet. All she wants is to ride off into the wild blue yonder with him.

Upward mobility, however, is in the hands of the OCS drill instructor, Sgt. Emil Foley (Louis Gossett Jr.), and he doesn't trust this perfect specimen. He sees Zack as somebody who might climb into an F-14, "zip off one day and sell it to the Cubans." Zack's self- serving streak bugs Foley, who decides to kick it out of him. And so, like Chuck Norris times two, Gere and Gossett, sweating hate, careen toward a kung-fu catharsis.

Director Taylor Hackford, grounded in documentaries, films them with realism. His filmmaking is chronological and careful, yet has the physical presence of a new Aussie import, sprawling as it does down Washington State's scenic coastline.

The script by Douglas Day Stewart, remembering his own OCS days, establishes a class of 35 authenic AOCs. One of the most well-drawn is Casey Seegar (Lisa Eilbacher), a perky little dickens with a gender conflict, caught somewhere between boot camp and pompom practice.

The script is not easy on her. She stumbles repeatedly over the same vertical obstacle; she hasn't got the emotional muscle to climb the wall. In one of the film's climactic moments -- and they are multiple -- Zack gives up his chance to run the obstacle course in record time to coach Casey up that wall. It's a Yankee Doodle growth step for Zack and Casey. Foley's one proud papa, a human being after all.

Not everybody grows, not everybody survives Foley, OCS or even love. AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN -- At the AMC Academy, AMC Skyline, K-B Congressional, K-B Crystal, K-B Fire Arts, K-B Georgetown Square, NTI Landover, NTI Springfield, NTI Tysons Center and Tenley Circle.