May 30, 1994 12:00 PM

Uma Thurman, Lorraine Bracco, Ruin Phoenix, Angie Dickinson

Director Gus Van Sant has done such interesting, grungily offbeat stuff in the past (Drugstore Cowboy, Mr Own Private Idaho) that you may be inclined to forgive him this sophomoric bit of ’70s countercultural whimsy based on Tom Robbins’s famous cult novel. It’s meant to be dreamlike, I suppose, but it’s closer to a nap, what with its twinkly feel-goodedness, its karmic, bubbleheaded cuteness. You scan the beautiful skies of Oregon, where much of this was filmed, wishing someone would parachute in vinegary old Kurt Vonnegut.

Thurman, a sometime fashion model born with enormous thumbs, spends most of her life hitchhiking from coast to coast. She winds up at the Rubber Rose Ranch, a western spa for wealthv, overweight ladies, just in time to witness a successful rebellion by the resident staff of cowgirls. She then has an affair with one of them, Phoenix (River’s sister). Beyond that, there is something to do with whooping cranes fed on peyote, and a long line of stars—Keanu Reeves, John Hurt, Crispin Glover, Sean Young, Noriyuki “Pat” Morita—who float by like dandelion puffs. (R)

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