"That Was Then . . . This Is Now" is easily the worst of the four movies drawn from S.E. Hinton novels to date, and that's saying a lot.

Mark (Emilio Estevez) lives with his buddy Bryon (Craig Sheffer); as we find out one hour into the film, his father shot his mother years ago, and Bryon's mother took him in. They are (yawn) Alienated Youth, involved in gang fights, joy riding, hustling pool and the like.

But Bryon, he's . . . well, let him tell you: "I been thinkin' . . . I just can't help thinkin' about, a lot of things, y'know? . . . Y'ever get the feeling that things are changing? I dunno, just things. It's like things are coming to an end. Because new things are beginning."

In other words, it's so darn hard to grow up. Bryon and Mark are like brothers, but hey, that was then, this is now, and soon Bryon is spending all his time in mushy montages, kissing Cathy (Kim Delaney) to a chorus of violins, while Mark glowers.

Director Christopher Cain has shot "That Was Then . . . This Is Now" almost wholly in back-lit silhouette; cinematographer Juan Ruiz Anchia adds lurid candy colors, and the movie's edited like an MTV video, all of which makes the movie's purple emotions purpler. Estevez, who has obviously studied at the knee of writer/director John Hughes, has contributed a script that substitutes slang ("transpo," for example, means "automobile") for reality.

Still, as an actor, Estevez remains the most engaging of what has come to be known as the Brat Pack, a live wire with an explosive, rasping laugh and sapphire eyes -- he's got the magnetism of the young Kirk Douglas. On the other hand, there's Sheffer, who, with a big sunburst of hair hanging into his brow and a dazed, vaguely cross expression, appears to have run headfirst into a sea anemone.

That Was Then . . . This Is Now, at area theaters, is rated R and contains violence, profanity and sexual themes.