WHY WAS "Nadine" made? Because Robert Benton wanted it made. Working from his own dewy-eyed script, Benton directs a '50s murder caper with all the dramatic, romantic and comic punch of "The Dukes of Hazzard." Jeff Bridges and Kim Basinger, as a Texas couple caught up in big trouble, do their best to inject gonzo goofiness. But, much as Robert De Niro and Meryl Streep in "Falling in Love," their enthusiasm adds up to a big nothing.

Basinger is Nadine Hightower, a hair-salon belle with a broad-as-the-prairie accent and a problem. A photographer has incriminating nudie shots of her. And when she goes to his studio to retrieve them, the photographer is knifed by a mysterious assailant. Panicked, she grabs a folder and bolts.

It's the wrong folder -- it contains the local government survey plans for a proposed highway wanted desperately by a gang of bad guys (led by a goateed Rip Torn as "Buford Pope"). With the map, they can buy the land cheap and sell high (to the government). Nadine persuades estranged hubbie Vernon (Bridges) to take her back to the studio but they run into the Austin police. The Hightowers were planning a divorce; now they're running from the cops and the crooks.

Benton's strategy is to make these two realize, in the manner of "His Girl Friday," that they were made for each other. But Benton (who wrote "Kramer vs. Kramer" and directed "Places in the Heart") foreshadows this "surprise" discovery all over the place; that the characters don't realize it earlier makes them look like boobs. Nadine puts down Vernon's new girlfriend with undisguised bitchiness. She excuses herself to get ice and comes back in a slinky neglige'e. Vern takes every chance he can to compliment her. Gosh, and these guys are getting divorced?

Benton injects hijinks wherever he can. The Hightowers must traverse two buildings with a rickety ladder, contend with rattlesnakes, a conniving brother and a final shootout with Pope and his disciples. It all seems like a lot of trouble just to save a marriage. Or make a film.


At area theaters.