Universal held up the release of "Stick" for almost a year, and now we know why. Unfortunately, movies aren't wines -- they don't improve in the cellar.

As in the Elmore Leonard novel on which it is based, things get sticky when a humble hoodlum makes a money drop for a drug dealer, Chucky (Charles Durning). One of Chucky's soldiers retires the hoodlum with a .45 slug on orders from the boss. So Ernest Stickley (Burt Reynolds), a pal fresh from the slammer, swears revenge. This being a movie, it takes him about an hour and a half to pull it off.

In between, he takes a job as a chauffeur for a back-thumping stockbroker (George Segal); falls in love with a schoolmarmish Candice Bergen; and chums up to his daughter (an adorably poised Tricia Leigh Fisher), who grew up while he was in "the joint." "You sure like to live on the edge," they tell him.

"Stick" is hopelessly miscast -- this is the most geriatric set of edge-players since Meyer Lansky spun his last roulette wheel. Durning, dolled up in Hawaiian shirts, his hair orange and spidery starbursts spirit-gummed to his brow, looks like Emmett Kelly lost at Mardi Gras. If you thought junkies tended toward the attenuated, forget it -- he's not Chucky, he's Chuck E. Cheese.

The usually reliable George Segal plays so broadly, he's a one-man CinemaScope, and the fault lies with Reynolds, who also directed. Reynolds never figures out whether he's making a thriller or a spoof, which for years has been the problem with his performances, too. His acting swivels from gravelly, glowering tough-guyness to nudge-and-wink appeals to the audience -- Mr. T and Johnny Carson in one. And he's way too polished for the character Leonard wrote; when he enters the slick world of Miami finance, he blends right in.

After "Miami Vice," "Stick's" gold-toned Miami looks flat; the only sense of place comes from the tropical torpor of the movie's pace. Most of the time we watch Reynolds being cute with the girls, with the action added as an afterthought. And whenever the movie threatens to roll, Reynolds smothers it with long helicopter shots of yachts and limos coursing across Florida. Leonard, who wrote the less than lapidary script, has already repudiated the movie, and he's right. His nickname is Dutch, and this is his elm disease. Stick, at area theaters, is rated R and contains graphic violence, profanity and sexual themes.