THE BIG EASY R, 1987, 101 minutes, HBO Video, $89.95.

Dennis Quaid bares his accordionlike midriff and leers his riverboat gambler's grin here in an irresistible performance that turned his noncareer around. He plays a corrupt Cajun cop who is being investigated (unbeknownst to him) by uptight attorney Ellen Barkin, adorably straitlaced and luscious under her girl's power suit. The story opens with a murder that needs solving, but it's the opposites who attract all the attention. Their steamy love scene, so central to the story, wins "Easy" a place next to "Body Heat" in cinema sex history. And afterward, the easier-going Barkin is understandably smitten with Quaid. Still, when she finds that her cop is crooked, she resists him till he mends his ways. Director Jim McBride of "Breathless" notoriety transforms Daniel Petrie Jr.'s screenplay, essentially a cop story, into a cheerful romp, stylish and sexy and full of New Orleans ambience. One of last year's best pictures, it is oh so easy to love. -- Rita Kempley

NADINE

PG, 1987, closed-captioned, 83 minutes, CBS-Fox Video, $89.98.

For some artists, going home is a tonic; it inspires them and grounds their work. But for Texas-born director Robert Benton, the journey home has been a dead end -- a waste of psychic bus fare. His newest picture, "Nadine," isn't like "Places in the Heart." It's not a thumb through back pages, but it's got a Texas backdrop (Austin, 1954) and an intimate scale -- everything that you'd expect from a small, personal film. Except there's nothing personal in it. "Nadine" is Benton's most perishable, least substantial work. The picture is a slender caper about a love-daft blond (Kim Basinger) and her no-'count ex-husband-to-be (Jeff Bridges), who get all tangled up in a real estate scam involving a redneck Moriarty named Buford Pope (Rip Torn), a murdered photographer and a folio of purloined surveyor's maps. (Or are they "art studies" of the buck-naked Nadine?) Benton, who wrote the screenplay, doesn't seem to have invested much in his couple's story -- as a mystery-adventure it doesn't amount to much. "Nadine" plays like an exercise, a larky diversion. And there's nothing wrong with a shallow throwaway. But a polished, refined throwaway? Along the way the movie has some choice bits that draw you in, like Bridges' loping, clodhopper stride or Glenn Headly's dippy warble, and there's a likable chemistry between the two stars. What Benton is going for is the stylization of drawing-room comedy but in the American grain -- a sort of hayseed farce. But there's no earthiness or spontaneity in his approach. In "Nadine," he keeps running off to wash up when what he needs is to get a little honest dirt on his hands. -- Hal Hinson

MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE

PG, 1987, 106 minutes, Warner Home Video, $89.95.

The casting couldn't be more perfect. Anatomically overdeveloped Dolph Lundgren muscles in on the action in this kids' fantasy based on the TV cartoon based on the toys by Mattel. Lundgren, celebrated as Grace Jones' sidekick and the Russian who whomped on Stallone in "Rocky IV," is He-Man, a superhero locked in an eternal battle with Skeletor, a power-crazed super skeleton played by Frank Langella. Skeletor wants to take over the planet Eternia ruled by the Sorceress of Greyskull Castle (Christina Pickles), but is opposed by the sword-swinging He-Man. The titanic battle moves to Earth -- which is cheaper than building sets -- when the troll Gwildor (Billy Barty) accidentally transports the lot to Colby, Calif., via his Cosmic Key. An Earth waitress and her boyfriend are drawn into the otherworldly warfare when they find the key, mistaking it for a Japanese stereo speaker. The story is dumb, the actors are numb, the sets are cheesy and the effects totally inept as directed by Gary Goddard -- who created Kong and Conan shows for the Universal Studio tour. -- Rita Kempley

REVENGE OF THE NERDS II: NERDS IN PARADISE

PG-13, 1987, closed-captioned, 92 minutes, CBS-Fox Video, $89.98.

What you end up dealing with when assessing summer movies is degrees of dumb: funny dumb, smart dumb, dumb dumb. "Revenge of the Nerds II: Nerds in Paradise" is a variation on the latter. This is a movie that doesn't just make you feel stupid, it makes you feel as though your head has been hollowed out and pumped full of Cheez Whiz. Directed by Joe Roth, it is a prime example of the diminished-capacity summer movie esthetic. It's essentially a retread of the first "Nerd" movie with most of the original nerds -- Robert Carradine, Curtis Armstrong, Larry B. Scott and the rest -- showing up for the second go-round. You could sum up what goes on by saying: The nerds are put down for being nerdy. Nerdiness triumphs. The End. And in between is the closest thing to a comedy desert I've ever seen. -- Hal Hinson

IL TRITTICO

Unrated, 1983, in Italian with subtitles, 150 minutes, Home Vision, $49.95.

This enjoyable if not dazzling La Scala production fills the last major gap in the Puccini video repertoire. His three one-act operas (known collectively as "The Triptych") show Puccini's versatility more fully than any other work. The most popular of the three is the last, the hilarious "Gianni Schicchi," Puccini's only comedy. It is generally well performed, with Juan Pons in the title role. Eventually, a better "Schicchi" is likely to come along (particularly in terms of set and costumes), but this will do nicely until then. "Suor Angelica" is the sweet, sweet story of an unwed mother from a noble family, shut away in a convent, who commits suicide in despair but is forgiven in the last scene as demonstrated by a heavenly apparition. The singing is good, and Rosalind Plowright's emoting in the title role is probably effective in a big theater, but it looks larger-than-life on the small screen. The miracle at the end is hinted at rather than shown, as though the company had its doubts. If you are going to do this opera, you should probably flaunt the miracle as spectacularly as you can. "Il Tabarro," a brief, violent bit of verismo about infidelity, jealousy and sudden death on a Parisian river barge, receives the best video performance it is likely to have in this century with Piero Cappucilli, Nicola Martinucci and Sylvia Sass. -- Joseph McLellan