OK, LET'S be open-minded. Maybe an L.A. cop movie starring Clint Eastwood and Charlie Sheen, in which they track down the leader of an auto-theft ring, will have something original about it. Maybe there's a twist somewhere, something to set it apart from the 20,595 other buddies-in-uniform movies made in recent years.

Maybe Michael Dukakis will be our next president. Or Pee-wee Herman. Get the picture?

"The Rookie" is like one of those maddening, waking dreams when you spend the whole night thrashing in bed while tediously repetitive images batter your racing brain. But at least morning comes.

This movie, directed by Eastwood, never ends. Although throwaway cop flicks have little business being on patrol more than 90 minutes, this one takes two hours. Why? For one thing, Eastwood's obsessed with tracking down mastermind Raul Julia (and his slinky, dangerous partner Sonia Braga). The reasons are twofold:

Revenge. Julia killed Eastwood's partner.

Lack of success. "All my life," Eastwood tells Sheen, "I've been in a race, whether I was on the circuit or the force. I always seemed to come up short."

On that psych-motivation beat, the movie also tries to get inside Sheen, his past and why he has This Fear. It has to do with a fatal mishap back when Charlie was a preteen Sheen.

"You murdered your brother!" say three people in murky shadows. Then Sheen wakes up. It was a dream! Phew!

"Where were you when I was in pain?" Sheen yells later at his rich, estranged dad, Tom Skerritt. "You were never there for me, Dad."

"You forgive yourself," Skerritt tells him.

Could we have just a moment's silence, a wee instant, to appreciate the work, the oeuvre, of screenwriters Boaz Yakin and Scott Spiegel?

Of course, this is about two stars playing guys with differences between them. Ready? Eastwood's the grizzled old gunfighter. He's mean, divorced, belligerent, shoots first, arrests later, smokes a cigar and makes homophobic jokes. Sheen's his new partner, the suit-and-tie type who works by the book. Sheen hates the way Eastwood drives and his "stinking whiskey breath." Eastwood hates all those doughnuts Sheen eats and the creases in his pants. By the end of this movie, Sheen will be smoking cigars and Eastwood will be eating doughnuts . . . .

In movies like this, it's easy to forget the little people, those supporting players who contribute to the big picture. Take Lara Flynn Boyle (please). As Sheen's girlfriend, her screen role is to act concerned and worried for her man.

"David, where are you?" she says, when he wakes up from a troubled sleep. "David, everybody's worried about you," she says later on the telephone.

OK, it's not much. But you build your career slowly. Today you're a girlfriend, tomorrow you're a lawyer who takes on the system for a hopeless case only she believes in.

THE ROOKIE (R) -- Area theaters.