We come to bury Blake Edwards, not to praise him. But lest such recent films of the director's as That's Life, Skin Deep and now Switch make us forget, he has created many marvelous movies. Think of The Pink Panther, A Shot in the Dark, Days of Wine and Roses, Experiment in Terror, S.O.B. or The Wild Rovers. And then there's his early TV work on such shows as Peter Gunn and Mr. Lucky. Come home, Blake; most is forgiven.

Ellen Barkin, Jimmy Smits

Here is an ideal comedy for anyone who might find it hilarious to watch Barkin dodder about for 20 minutes or so in imitation of a man who found himself in a woman's body and didn't know how to walk in high heels.

That is the humor highlight of this film, whose writing, directing and major self-embarrassment credits all belong to Blake Edwards. The lowlights include a 10 on the "holy s—-!" counter, innumerable adjectival uses of "f—-ing" and a pathetic attempt to make a discussion of rape into a joke.

Another example of the newly popular postmortem cinema, the film revolves around the notion that a ruthlessly womanizing man, Perry King, is murdered by three of his former women friends. He is returned to life in Barkin's body to see if he can find even one woman who liked him as a man; if he can, he'll go to heaven. Otherwise, he'll end up in hell, presumably joining the black blobs from Ghost, the gargoyles from Jacob 's Ladder and the dropouts from Defending Your Life.

Smits plays King/Barkin's best friend, whose camaraderie has turned inevitably to lust. It's not the predictability of this development that makes the scenes between them so tedious though: It's the script's leaden spirit and lack of invention. Most of the attempted jokes have to do with the emphatically female Barkin expressing King's macho attitudes. When he/she sees a pretty woman go by, for instance, he nudges Smits and says, "Cheek out that ass. How'd you like to give her a little punch in the pants?" Later he/she sees another woman and says, "How'd you like to play hide the salami with that for a week?"

This kind of thing continues, with Barkin confronting King's past insensitivities in presumably enlightening fashion. It's hard to say whether the ending is more maudlin or more obvious. Whichever, it's not any fun.

Edwards, whose previous film Skin Deep also used a woman-chasing man as a comedy device, hardly manages one unabrasive scene here. Carl Reiner's 1984 gender-exchange comedy, All of Me, with Steve Martin and Lily Tomlin, was superior in every way.

Barkin and Smits manage to stay reasonably untouched. (Much attention is given, though, to Barkin sitting in short skirts with her limbs splayed in revealing fashion. You have to feel vicarious humiliation for her in these tasteless sequences.)

JoBeth Williams is one of the murderers; Lorraine Bracco is a lesbian with whom Barkin has a fling that's neither sexy nor funny. You don't hate any of the actors, but your feelings toward the turkey they rode in on get nastier and nastier. (R)

Robin Givens, Forest Whitaker

A lot of this movie is seriously underexposed, the images faded and murky. So it's sometimes hard to tell, but it seems to be a slight crime comedy that would have been outdated (and outclassed) if it had appeared 20 years ago when Ossie Davis, Belafonte, Cosby and Poitier were making films like Cotton Comes to Harlem and Uptown Saturday Night.

The script by John Toles-Bey and Bobby Crawford has Givens, Whitaker, Gregory Hines, Danny Glover, Zakes Mokae and Badja Djola chasing after a trunk of gold left over from a Mississippi robbery and shipped to New York City in the mid-'50s. That extraordinary cast, directed by Bill Duke (best known as an actor in such films as Bird on a Wire), has little to do other than idle between sporadic outbursts of sadistic violence.

Givens, who is of the Bo Derek, lip-licking—sexiness school of acting, is a doxy who takes refuge in the arms of Whitaker, a meek funeral-parlor bookkeeper. Hines is Whitaker's con-man brother; Glover is a racketeer with an obsession for his pet Pekingese; and Djola is Givens's former accornplicelover. (The film's best bits are running gags, such as having Djola say, "Pop goes the weasel," whenever he wants someone killed. This would be funnier if people weren't slitting each other's throats and throwing acid around.)

Whitaker, doing a Lou Costello-Stan Laurel turn as the virgin accountant, makes a flimsy character marginally interesting. Hines and Glover long ago outgrew such minor roles as they have here though. And it's not as if they're doing cameos in Hamlet. The dialogue, after all, features such lines as "We got dead people to tend to here. You think they're gonna wait on you?"

Everything, however, might have seemed figuratively brighter if only the film were literally brighter. It's much easier to laugh if you're not squinting into the darkness trying to figure out who's who and where who is. (R)

Lisa Richards, Mary Crosby

If someone gives you the choice to see this movie or count out 35,000 jelly beans to fill one of those carnival-game jars, go for the jelly beans.

While the film was directed by that cult favorite and master of turgidity Henry (Sitting Ducks, Someone to Love) Jaglom, it is better than most of his films in one respect: He doesn't appear in it. Other than that, though, it employs his usual pseudodocumentary, pretentious style, which hinges on coming up with a bunch of unlikable characters who have nothing to say and letting them say it for almost two hours.

Richards (Rolling Thunder) is a California woman hosting a party to celebrate her 40th birthday, Crosby's 30th and Marlena Giovi's 50th. The movie consists of a couple of dozen women at the party talking to each other and the camera in ostentatiously artsy quick cuts. Mostly they talk about eating: "If I wanted to have dessert, I'd have dessert. 'Cause it's a normal thing to have dessert." "I'd much rather be me than you. When I'm fat, I always think I'm thin. When you're thin, you think you're fat." "Food is the only thing that will love me and comfort me and be good to me 24 hours a day." "I'm still looking for a man who can excite me as much as a baked potato."

Snatches of this are funny. Much of the dialogue appears to be improvised, however, and just drivels out. The food obsession, sweeping across the whole crowd of well-dressed, well-spoken, privileged women, soon becomes an offensive self-indulgence. And ultimately the man-trashing and shallow behavior raises a suspicion that this is just backhanded misogyny. There is certainly nobody in the crowd who rises above all the fatuous behavior.

Richards, while her strong resemblance to Amy Madigan is a distraction, is effectively anguished. Frances Bergen (Candice's mother) as Richards's mother, Crosby as a devoted wife, and Gwen Welles as a gossipy bitch all have good moments.

Taken together, though, the constant whining about eating, bulimic talk of throwing up, and discussion of diets grows increasingly tiresome. By the time a real crisis of sorts does develop, the characters have all forfeited their right to anyone's attention. (R)

>AVALON

FUNNY, ORIGINAL AND VERY SENTIMENTAL, THIS IS DIRECTOR Barry Levinson's tribute to the immigrants who came to the U.S. early in this century. Based on Levinson's Russian family, it depends on such small incidents as a lively Thanksgiving dinner. The film focuses on Armin Mueller-Stahl, who leads his family to the U.S., but Joan Plowright as his wife, Aidan Quinn as their son and Elizabeth Perkins as Quinn's wife are strong too. (RCA/Columbia)