MARTIN SCORSESE directs "After Hours," a big-city black comedy about one of those wet nights in wonderland, with Rosanna Arquette as a bad date and Terri Garr as a Xerox clerk with a beehive. It's sure to delight those who desperately seek surrealism.

Joseph Minion wrote the bizarre and byzantine script as an assignment for the Columbia University Film School, and came up with one of the year's great comedies. Scorsese's involvement drew the big-name stars, but producer Griffin Dunne, also a fine comic actor, gets the leading role.

He plays Paul, an average-guy word processor who falls through an urban rabbit hole to find himself in a late-night nightmare where the rules change at 2 a.m. and reality is bounded by the mean streets of SoHo.

There's even a taxi driver who drives the earnest young Paul at light speed to the Twilight Zone. His money flies out the window on the way, leaving him with only 97 cents. He's virtually trapped, since the subway fares have gone up to $1.50 and he's hundreds of blocks from home.

Scorsese, with the photography of Michael Ballhaus, makes it all seem as scary as being chased by the Son of Sam. He makes us face up to our real fears about careering cabs, lost keys, kooks and crowded subway cars. The urban plight.

Only the characters of Scorsese's fantastical SoHo are unreal, because they wish to be, with chains and mohawks and confused sexualities. Linda Fiorentino is wicked as a kinky sculptress who shares her loft with the disturbed Arquette. And Garr is a slow study in Spray Net, whose circa '65 apartment is ringed with protective rat traps. Cheech and Chong also turn up as burglars whose thefts are finally blamed on Dunne who has been intricately linked with all the robberies.

John Heard costars as the good-hearted bartender at the Terminal Bar, with novelist Robert Plunket as a homosexual who provides a momentary haven for Paul, now on the run from a SoHoan hanging party in a Mr. Softee truck.

The entire mad cast would be out of place in the Midwest or a 3-M Company boardroom, but they are only SoHoans who've gone over the edge, except for Paul, an early-to-bed, upper East-Sider who learns we are nothing without our keys.

In the end, like E.T. and Dorothy, all he wants is to go home -- if that is possible in a modern city. We know it's rotten in the Big Apple, but "After Hours" addresses a universal urban unrest in this fairytale of Gotham and Gomorrah. AFTER HOURS (R) -- At area theaters.