THE KARATE KID" gave us a young teenager versus a WASPy martial arts expert. "Breaking Away" served up a working-class bike racer against privileged college kids. The "Rocky" sagas offered a semi-verbal club fighter against mean heavyweight champions. Now "Vision Quest" takes a try at the "underdog against the odds" formula and, like so many imitations, it doesn't work.

High-schooler Louden Swain (Matthew Modine) spends most of "Vision Quest" training to wrestle with a white Mr. T (Frank Jasper) who is a disagreeable fellow indeed: "His coach has to keep him from biting guys' throats off!" The usual well-meaning folks (father, friends, coach, etc.) try to talk Louden out of his curious "vision quest" but nothing sways our man. And we are left with increasingly tedious shots of pushups, rope skipping and nose bleeds as he strains to make weight.

Lo and behold, a girl gets involved. A hardened drifter named Carla (Linda Fiorentino) takes up residence in the Swain household, and when Louden's not training, or refusing pizzas, you can usually find him lingering over her lingerie. Carla's "been around the block a few times," and Fiorentino certainly captures that quality. But when it comes time to show a degree of tenderness, all is lost. Her performance isn't helped by lines like, "Your grandfather is a great old guy; I bet he was an animal when he was young."

The one bright spot in this film is Modine's performance as Louden. Modine is so earnest and likable that even the oft-seen "big match" climax holds your attention. But a fine leading performance and a muscle-bound villain can't rescue this trite tale.ick.

VISION QUEST (R) -- At area theaters.