{Arnold Schwarzenegger} is . . . a funny guy who doesn't take himself too seriously." James Brady, Parade

"I felt it was very important to show the side of Arnold where he doesn't take himself overly seriously." Keith Barish, executive producer of "The Running Man"

"Always {while bodybuilding} I could look at myself and say, 'Oh God' . . . It was so ridiculous; you couldn't take it seriously." Arnold Schwarzenegger, Esquire interview

hose of you schooled in hype decoding shouldn't have any problem with those statements. When Actor A stands up there clutching his Golden Globe Award and sobs, "It's not the award that matters but . . . the recognition of my peers," he means: It's the award that matters. When Actress B, on a talk show to discuss her new movie, says, "This script was very, very special to me, and the producers were operating on a shoestring because the so-called 'minds' in Hollywood didn't think it had commercial potential. So I agreed to a very small salary, because, I'll be honest with ya, if this motion picture brings people half the joy I know it will, it will have been worth it," she means: I have been out of work for a long time now, and I hope, God willing, that 20 million of you schlubs will line up, shell out and rescue my career. Likewise, when we're barraged with Arnold "not taking himself seriously" quotes (there's one in almost every article about him), that means: Arnold takes himself very seriously. Whether it's his zillion-dollar movie career, his zillion-dollar real estate career or his big-money bankrolling-of- conservative-Republicans career, Arnold approaches everything with the same Teutonic will that he displayed during the years when, however seriously he wasn't taking it, he spent seven hours a day in a gym, torturing his body into a throbbing 250-pound muscle knot.

All of which is fine with me. Arnold strikes me as a cool, funny guy, the son of an Austrian cop, who grew up poor and worked hard, and I'm not here to criticize his muscles, money, real estate, politics or right to take himself seriously. In fact, I wish Arnold would take his film work much more seriously. Right now he seems content to star in one identical $75-million-grossing action picture after another. As he has often said, "Getting to the top in acting can mean getting to the top financially." A lucrative outlook but unchallenging. I'd like to see Arnold, a` la almost any actor you can name, but especially Jerry Lewis, Goldie Hawn and Sylvester Stallone, demanding "more serious roles" and "creative control over my films." That's right, what I want is: Arnold, artiste and auteur. Then we might really see something. He could make preachy, schlocky action pictures a` la "Billy Jack" that reflect his political beliefs. Only his would be right wing instead of left.

Unfortunately, I think he's too smart for that.

You see, before Arnold takes something up, he obsessively studies the right and wrong ways of doing it. When he started bodybuilding, he devoured everything he could find about anatomy and muscle development. Real estate? Years ago he took nighttime business classes, and today, as he told Playboy last month, he "follow{s} people like Donald Trump . . . You watch their moves. That will educate you."

In his third major pursuit -- stardom -- it's obvious that Arnold has kept a keen eye on "the moves" of Sylvester Stallone and uses him as a walking, talking, acting, writing, directing and people-alienating role model of how not to do it. You can actually see Arnold apply this mental pattern to all aspects of his personal and professional conduct. Choice of wife? Mr. Rambo is sent a naughty picture by a 21-year-old Danish "model-actress" named Brigitte Nielsen who makes it clear that she will dump her husband and baby son because she was so enthralled by "Rocky," and what does he do? He figures, "Yeah, she make good wife," dumps his first wife and weds the dreaded nightmare gold digger. Meanwhile, Arnold bags one of America's favorite sweethearts, Maria Shriver. On the movie set, Arnold dresses like Woody Allen, in plaid shirts and muted cords, while Sly does himself up like a Venusian pimp. "Whatever {Sly} does, it always comes out wrong," Arnold sneered in his Playboy interview. (Now that he's on top, Arnold isn't shy about hurling advice thunderbolts at his diminutive muscle colleague.) "Seeing him dressed in his white suit, trying to look slick and hip . . . It's a shame no one taught him how to be cool." Finally, there's the film career. Sly, armed with the charming modesty of a steroid-crazed Napoleon, took his "Rocky" money and wrote and directed his way through a succession of "serious" bombs and self-mythologizing vanity flicks. Meanwhile, Arnold sheepishly vows not to exceed his limits while "try-ink" to learn to be a better actor. "It's up to me," he said recently, "to make slowly the people change over and see me as something else beside the bodybuilder."

To which I say: Great, but how about speeding it up a bit? While I wait, all I can do is monitor Arnold for "auteur" blips. There aren't many. In his first 11 films -- "Hercules Goes Bananas," "The Villain" (Arn plays a cowboy), "Stay Hungry," "The Jayne Mansfield Story," the two "Conans," "The Terminator," "Red Sonja," "Commando," "Raw Deal" and "Predator" -- there was a grand total of . . . one. In "Commando," in which Arnold blows away an entire army to rescue his daughter, he wanted to add a nifty "gag" that he described in a recent Sports Illustrated profile: "I grab the {enemy soldier's} arm, chop it off. Blood comes out of his side. I'm holding his arm in my hand. He starts screaming, 'Aaaaaah! Aaaaaah!' I think to myself, 'All the other soldiers are going to hear this and come running.' So I yell, 'Shut up!' and on the word 'up' I hit him over the head with his arm and knock him out." Arnold's director vetoed it; Arnold is reportedly still convinced it would have made great cinema.

Could this be the sort of thing that prompts a man to write scripts and start his own production company, direct his own movies? I doubt it. "The Running Man," Arnold's latest film, was billed as a breakthrough in that he shows less beef and gets to say more lines, display vulnerability and act. Uh well. Arnold plays a cop in a futuristic state who gets punished because he won't helicopter-gun a crowd of food rioters, and his Big Moment comes when he says, "Day're lotsoof wimmin un chuldrun downdare! All dey vwont is FOODT, f'Gott's sake!" Other than that, it's a series of Eastwoodian mayhem quips. When attacked by a buzz- saw-wielding killer who screams, "The saw is part of me, and I'm gonna make it part of YOU!!!," Arnold out-strongs him, guides the saw into his "groin area" and says, "Det's all-right. KEEP it!!!"

Yep, pretty non-arty . . . Double sigh. Sports Illustrated is sure it would be a mistake for Arnold to break out and make the kind of flicks I want to see: "Nobody's going to pack 1,600 theaters to see 'Conan the Contrarian' or 'The Running Landlord.' " I'm willing to admit they may be right. All I want is one chance to vote with my ticket-buying dollar. ::