"Flowers in the Attic" is slow, stiff, stupid and senseless, a film utterly lacking in motivation, development and nuance, and further marred by embarrassingly flat acting and directing.

The only possible reason for its existence has to be New World Pictures' hope that some of the 4 million people who bought the late V.C. Andrews' book will flock to see it on the screen. Some 60 percent of that original audience was teen-age girls, and at the theater where this screening was caught, the audience did consist largely of teen-age girls and young women. But even they seemed stunned by the sheer ineptitude of the filmmakers.

As a fable about growing up and assuming responsibilities for one's life, Andrews' book had much to recommend it, including solid, workwomanlike writing. But the screenplay by Jeffrey Bloom, who also directed, seems to have been written in crayon. He'd like to have made a "Shining," but careerwise, this is going down as a shiner.

After an "ideal family" intro worthy of Steven Spielberg -- handsome father, gorgeous mother, two teen-agers and twin tykes -- tragedy strikes, eliminating the father and forcing a suddenly penniless Mom (Victoria Tennant) to take the kids to Granddad's house, which turns out to be as big as Buckingham Palace, only secluded. But she's never mentioned the grandparents to the kids and, apparently, vice versa. Seems Granddad's dying and has already cut her out of his will after disapproving of the marriage (intrafamily, as it was). Grandmother (Louise Fletcher) is convinced the kids are the devil's spawn, though they look just like your average television sitcom group; to keep them a secret, she and Mom lock them in the attic, pretty much for good, while Mom tries to win back Granddaddy's love -- and, of course, some of the inheritance.

In the book, it all makes sense, but don't look for similar sense in Bloom's film, particularly if you've never read the book. His script offers no clues, no definition, no evolution. Worse, nobody seems the least bit motivated to do anything, including escape (movie patrons excepted). When in doubt, Bloom resorts to such hoary cliche's as long shots of the house and estate (we're in Charles Addams country) and that wordless, tuneless singing that's supposed to imply insanity. Spare me!

Poor Tennant is absolutely ridiculous as the mother looking to obliterate her past, and Fletcher should talk to her agent about these stereotyped "evil" roles, in which she has become increasingly tedious. As for the kids, the insufferably cute twins (Lindsay Parker and the curly-haired Ben Ganger, who actually looks like he could be Harpo Marx's son) and those resourceful and determined teens (Kristy Swanson and Jeb Stuart Adams), you wonder why it takes them six months to figure out that something's not quite right. It looks like ol' Jeb's as strong as an ox. Well, maybe he's as dumb as one, too, and maybe that attic, which is as big as a condo and furnished like a Mazza Gallerie of the imagination, isn't such a bad place to be.

However, any theater playing this movie most definitely is. At one point, one of the kids complains that "all the money in the world isn't worth the living that we've lost," a sentiment sure to be shared by anybody who spends a half-dozen bucks on this.

Flowers in the Attic, now playing at area theaters, is rated PG-13.