"The Big Chill," like an upbeat, warm- hearted version of "The Return of the Secaucus Seven," revisits the rebels of the '60s, who now find themselves someplace they never knew they were headed.

"Chill" is about picking up right where you left off, just as though 16 years were a day. It's about changing and staying the same all at once, about filling in the missing pieces, about making old friends new again. It's an irresistible film full of '60s music and homespun hokum.

Eight equally talented players costar as former college housemates who renew their friendship following the suicide of old roommate Alex. Kevin Kline and the radiant Glenn Close play a couple who host a weekend gathering of the clan -- William Hurt, a veteran turned drug dealer; Tom Berenger, star of a macho-detective TV series; Jeff Goldblum, a reporter for "People" magazine; Mary Kay Place, a real-estate lawyer, and JoBeth Williams, a businessman's wife. Meg Tilly joins the older players as a kid caught between generations, the girlfriend of Alex, who was the last hippie, the Whole Earth holdout.

We get to know the characters before we know their names. It's like being a peeper at a slumber party, not that anybody minds. Each person unpacks his or her suitcase -- a showcase of aspirations, compulsions, needs, dreams seen in blow-dryers and Maalox bottles. Some names or occupations don't come till midway into the film. They talk and eat and ramble.

Ironically, they're the generation that invented the caveat "Never trust anyone over 30," and now they wonder about trusting themselves. Life's answers always seem to be slipping through their fingers. "You go out in the world and get dirty," says Kline in one of a hundred homilies in the semi-sweet script.

The film is beautifully balanced in every way -- acting, direction (by Lawrence Kasdan) and script (by Kasdan and Barbara Benedek). The actors seem to have been friends for years. Goldblum upstages everybody as the pop journalist who's slid beyond cynicism. He's finally found exactly the right role for his gangly frame and understated comedic style, and he gets a lion's share of good lines.

Yesterday's investigative reporter is today's gossip columnist. Yesterday's yippie is now a jogger; headbands have new meanings.

Through it all, Kasdan has deftly created what he calls "a comedy of values," speaking of and for people who are always changing theirs. THE BIG CHILL -- At area theaters.