Richard Gere is every inch the man. There's no doubt about it. But he's no longer a gentleman, especially after his performance in a sleazy little number called "Breathless." It's foul, with so little left to the imagination that we get a look between his toes.

His French co-star, Valerie Kaprisky, is also every inch a woman. She's a lady, but hardly the shy type. She plays Monica, a promising architecture student who becomes obsessed with Jesse (Gere), a light- hearted car thief and cop killer. It's your basic lady and the tramp story.

Trendspotters will no doubt have already noticed this recurring spring theme. From "Bad Boys" to "Baby, It's You" and now "Breathless," good girls can't help but gambol their futures away by bunking with a hunk. It's the lure of pure passion.

Thus motivated, Monica shields Jesse from the police while she has her way with him, but finally betrays him to return to her cozy collegiate life. The script is based on Francois Truffaut's "A Bout de Souffle," a 1959 release that rewrote filmmaking rules. But son of "Souffle" doesn't innovate, though director Jim McBride, who co-wrote the screenplay with L.M. Kit Carson, tries -- way too hard.

The film begins with a jaunty scene of Jesse, a Las Vegas slime, rather nonchalantly stealing a Porsche. He drives it to L.A. and we go along for the ride, which is rather a long one. In fact, we mostly go along for rides. Jesse steals something like seven cars in this film. Played with street hauteur by Gere, he's a stupid sort whose reading skills are limited to comic books. His favorite is the Silver Surfer, a super hero who believes love is the "power cosmic." You know things are not going to work out in the end when Monica asks him what he thinks of William Faulkner, as they really get down to business on her drafting table.

As for acting, Gere creates an intriguing character, but he has nothing to do with him but jive and drive. And to be kind, it's Kaprisky's first major film. She's great at shaking her hair around and sitting in front of a fan, but she sounds sort of choked.

Some viewers will gasp over language or love scenes, but few will be left "Breathless," unless they sprint for the exits in dismay. BREATHLESS -- At area theaters.