RICHARD GERE just can't keep his pants on. About half way through his newest effort, "King David," just when you think he might make it, he strips down to his 3,000-year-old boxer shorts and begins to dance a hora, or maybe it's a hula, through the streets of Jerusalem.

After the baffling, but rabbinically authenticated dance number, his first Queen Michal delivers the film's most telling line: "I saw no king. I saw a naked man dancing." He was wearing a little something, yes, but he didn't look a thing like a king. He looked like a firewalker with an inner ear disorder.

Gere, terribly miscast by director Bruce Beresford, makes the best of a bad situation made worse by a phlegmatic script and bloodless production. The shepherd boy's story, if told well, would be an exciting one. In fact, it's hard to miss:

Davd is chosen by God, anointed by Samuel and destined to be the greatest King of Israel. He has five wives to marry, battles to fight, sins to commit and uprisings to quell. Yet we never see him in action either in bed (below the birthmark) or on the battlefield (not that they had sex or violence in the Bible, of course).

To the good, the writers are thorough, the sets authentic and the scenery lovely. Many of the characters are well-played, especially Edward Woodward's crazy King Saul and Ian Sears' spiritual young David. Unfortunately, little David has a British accent, and big David has an American one.

To the bad, David's son Absalom (Jean- Marc Barr) floats about like Lady MacBeth on one of her bad nights, and his fifth wife, Bathsheba (Alice Krige), might as well have been the first nun. And what's more, God never shows, not in so much as the least little thunderclap. A Biblical epic just isn't a Biblical epic without God.

Cecil B. DeMille would have insisted on opening the heavens and loosing enough pigeons for an Olympic opening night. Beresford nixes the birds and other major eerie manifestations, the kinds that have given epic film fans the customary chills in the past. Beresford, the director of "Tender Mercies" and "Breaker Morant," is as mischosen as Gere here.

"King David," a spotty though far from abysmal film, will find its place on Easter Sunday Night at the Movies, I'm sure. As for you, Richard, blessed be the fruit of thy loom. Keep your pants on, as my mother used to say, and a better part will some day come your way.

KING DAVID (PG-13) -- At area theaters.