Despite more thoughtful pictures like "Whose Life Is It Anyway?" and "Saturday Night Fever" under his belt, director John Badham seems to have made his career with high-energy action pictures based on predictable scripts that could go either way - good or bad.

And some of them are bad indeed - last year's "Bird on a Wire," for example. Others, like "WarGames," "Blue Thunder" and especially "Stakeout" are better than they have any right to be.Once again, Badham has come together with a workable combination of stars - Michael J. Fox and James Woods - a likable, if not particularly original premise

MOVIE and managed to make a fast-paced movie that is equal parts laughs and thrills.

So it's not the least bit believable - who cares? Just turn off your brain and enjoy.

Fox is a spoiled movie star who makes "Indiana Jones"-type adventures. But, of course, he wants to be taken seriously and is trying to land a role in a tough cop picture.

To prove to the studios he can handle it, Fox finagles his way into the life of a New York cop (Woods) so he can follow him around and learn what it's like. Woods, naturally, hates the idea - especially when Fox reveals that he plans to not only work with him but also to live with him.

Woods has been pursuing a serial killer (gleefully played by Stephen Lang) and finds himself off the case - but if you think he's not going to track down that killer anyway you haven't been to a cop movie in 30 years.

Some of this is wildly ludicrous, but much of it is funny and exciting, thanks largely to the stars and Badham's keep-it-moving directing style.

Fox is obviously having the time of his life making fun of his own image and Hollywood in general. And Woods, though his role is very similar to many he's played, seems to be enjoying the chance to poke holes in movie stereotypes by lobbing one-liners at Fox's character.

Badham keeps things consistently faster and funnier than he did with "Bird on a Wire." There are a few sloppy editing moments here but nothing that slows down the momentum, one of the problems "Bird on a Wire" had.

"The Hard Way" is rated R for violence and profanity, which is considerable but not as much as most R-rated action-thrillers these days. There is also a scene with some drunks in a pizza parlor who moon the next table.