"PARIS, TEXAS," starring Harry Dean Stanton and Nastassja Kinski, is the seedy, artsy "Kramer vs. Kramer" that won a Palme d'Or at Cannes last year.

It does seem like a prize-winner at first, but the French and German production team soon loses its way in the American West, not to mention the audience along the arduous way.

Stanton wanders into the first frame, which is filled with towering mesas, sagebrush and a lone hawk looking for dinner. He's been lost for days, bound for nowhere, but walking purposefully. His journey, actual and psychological, takes us from Texas to California, the states and the states of mind. And for quite a while, we're willing to ride along, but not forever.

Dean Stockwell, in a superb performance as his brother, drives Travis back to reality, or at least Los Angeles, and helps reunite him with his son.

Hunter Carson, who plays the boy, is also the son of screenwriter L.M. Kit Carson who helped adapt "Paris, Texas" from the original story by Sam Shepard and director Wim Wenders. And a confusing one it is, too.

Stanton, his face like a map of the dry country he's been walking, arroyos on dry cracked flats, is at his best, which is about as good as acting can get, when he plays father to the son he mysteriously abandoned four years back.

His brother and his wife, about the nicest people on the face of the earth, are like parents to the boy. But Travis up and takes the boy off on a search for his mother Jane, also missing these four years. About now, two hours into the movie, it's really obvious that nobody has the slightest idea where to take it from here.

And where's Nastassja Kinski?

Wenders speaks of "waiting for Kinski," as if she were Godot. And she probably is. Whatever, when he was sure she'd arrive in time for filming, Wenders had Shepard finish the dialogue. Shepard worked on it at nights after spending the days filming "Country." Maybe he was tired. Maybe they all were. Because now it really gets existential, nihilistic and down-right numb-witted.

At last, Kinski. In a fuzzy pink sweater, she mimicks a good Southern accent, except now and then when it becomes Transylvanian.

She's become a hostess in a peep brothel, where she has long and boring dialogues with her former husband, in which he reveals the tragedy that broke them apart four years back. It has something to do with a sock in a cowbell.

PARIS, TEXAS (R) -- At The Outer Circle.