Stars: Harley Jane Kozak, Elizabeth McGovern, Bill Pullman, Brad Pitt, Larry Miller, Ken Wahl. Written by Sara Parriott & Josann McGibbon. Directed by Donald Petrie. Rated R for sexual innuendo, profanity.

Last year "Married to It" had the thankless job of being the year's most clumsily handled relationship movie. This year that honor goes to "The Favor". The film is a mixture of the thirtysomething ruminations found in "The Big Chill" and the sophomoric situations and conspicuous misunderstandings found in TV's "Three's Company".

Kathy (Harley Jane Kozak) is arguably the film's main character. She has a loving, but mostly inattentive and somewhat dull, husband named Peter (Bill Pullman). She also has an unmarried best friend named Emily (Elizabeth McGovern) who keeps a long-and-getting-longer list of men she has slept with. Even though content in her largely humdrum marriage, Kathy can't help but feel a little envious of Emily, especially in light of her most recent stud-muffin conquest, Elliott (Brad Pitt). But if there is one guy whom Kathy would like most to see, that guy would have to be her old high school flame, Tom (Ken Wahl).

After learning of his whereabouts, Kathy send Emily to catch up with Tom to see if he is still the hunk she remembers. Lest we get the idea that any of this is purely innocent, Kathy requests that Emily sleep with Tom, if she wouldn't be so kind, to see how good a lover he is. This, my dear friends, is the favor for which the film is named. Emily feebly balks at the implication that this kind of stunt is right up her alley, but proceeds with the plan without giving Kathy any guarantees about how far she is willing to go.

Once the deed is done, Emily pops over to Kathy's house to divulge the details. Yes, he is single and gorgeous and, yes, she did sleep with him and it was the single best night of her life. After the resulting "Indecent Proposal"-ish tiff, the good friends make up. Kathy has now made up her mind to visit Tom, and deceives her husband about her reason for leaving town. Oh, yeah, and there's some mess involving the recently discovered pregnancy of Emily and the question of who the father is and whether or not she will keep the baby. Then the already bumbling movie steers into an improbable series of events driven by the fact that each of the characters is essentially an idiot.

"The Favor" is one of the weakest ensemble dramas (some might consider it a comedy; I, however, cannot) ever to sully the big screen. Such an observation is surprising given that three of its cast members, Bill Pullman ("Malice"), Elizabeth McGovern ("The Bedroom Window"), and Brad Pitt ("Thelma & Louise"), have identifiable talent. The problem lies in a half- baked screenplay that never should have been given the green light and a director whose presence could only be explained by nepotism.

On top of everything else, the film is raunchier than it needs to be and thus merited an R rating from the MPAA even without nudity or sex. "The Favor" is inappropriate for kids and inadequate for adults.

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