"Splash," an aquacade of myth and laughter, glimmers like moonlit tide. It's an enrapturing underwater romance pairing dry-lander Tom Hanks with mermaid Daryl Hannah (not an easy affair for a nonswimmer).

It is a triumph for director Ron Howard, underwater photographer Jordan Klein, the writers and even the guy who made Hannah's latex tail (Robert Short). And it's surely the stairway to superstardom for costar John Candy and the lovely leading nyad.

Hannah, a scuba diver, performed her own undersea stunts in the coral wonderlands 50 feet below the Bahamas. With her golden tail and fins and hair floating all around, she is a mermaid, swimming as naturally as the schools of tropical fish all around her. As we know, mermaids can have great legs -- but only under extremely complicated conditions -- and that, of course, is crux of the matter.

The prerequisite love is at first sight when the mermaid saves Allen Bauer (Hanks) from the seas off Cape Cod. Later she swims after him to New York where he and brother Freddie (Candy) run a produce business. She emerges from New York Harbor without a scale on, calls herself Madison after the avenue, eats lobsters shell and all and learns to speak English in one day from watching Richard Simmons and game shows.

"What about a woman showing up nude in a public place?" says Allen, who's beginning to have suspicions about his new girlfriend. "Well, I'm all for it, of course," says Freddie before he offers his bewildered brother some sensible advice, most of which he undoubtedly gleaned from "Penthouse," his favorite magazine.

Candy, the former "SCTV" star, bursting with calamity, hungry for sex and laughs, is pure energy, a huge, reassuring presence. And Hanks succeeds as a leading man, having already proved his skills as a comic as a TV Tootsie on "Bosom Buddies."

But it's hard not to focus on Hannah, whose odd beauty demands attention the way Meryl Streep's does. She works as a mime in her undersea scenes and before she learns English. She's coy, affectionate, comical. Those who remember her as an acrobatic killer robot in "Blade Runner" will be impressed with her range of fantastical styles.

Eugene Levy, also a Second City graduate, plays the briny villain, a marine biologist who plans to expose Madison to further his questionable career. Dody Goodman is badly used as are some of the other character actors, particularly two feebleminded boatmen who don't seem to belong in this classy endeavor.

"Splash," a departure for struggling Disney Studio, is as irresistible as the siren's song. SPLASH -- At area theaters.