JOURNALISM IN the Sunshine State looked dangerous enough in such films as "The Mean Season," and "Absence of Malice." But now "A Flash of Green" rolls into town, featuring Palm City reporter Jimmy Wing (Ed Harris) who gets beat up more times than Wile E. Coyote. And get this: He gets beat up on purpose -- a hard-to-understand premise that is even harder to believe.

He doesn't start getting pounded until the last half of "A Flash of Green," and he probably deserves it, under the circumstances. Wing, you see, originally had teamed with a slimy Palm County commissioner (expertly played by Richard Jordan) who plans to fill in the lovely neighborhood bay. It is Wing's job to gather dirt on various good-hearted conservationists and report back to the commissioner.

Our man gradually learns the error of his ways, however. Wing attacks the commissioner first in print and then with his peculiar beat-me-up campaign. At movie's end it's hard to tell just who's the victor here.

"A Flash of Green" is most effective when depicting the struggle between conservationists and developers. Director Victor Nunez builds tension with a creepy pace, and Harris' deadpan performance as Wing is surprisingly believable. Unfortunately, the story is not. Even the gorgeous shots of Florida marshland don't compensate.