Reminiscent of the "Mission Impossible" television series, a major film company plans to test-market a videocassette that will self-destruct after the movie has been watched a set number of times.

MGM-UA Home Video has decided to test the "disposable" tapes this summer in an undisclosed city, according to Herb Fischer, vice president of sales and marketing.The mission of the new videocassette - should studios decide to accept it - will be to encourage the production companies to sell video rental stores more copies of a movie for the same price they would pay for fewer tapes with unlimited play. That would make it easier for movie renters nationwide to find a hot new release at their video stores.

"It saves you going back three times to get the same film," said Steve Roberts, president of the Los Angeles-based S. Roberts Co.

The company is consulting on the project for Rank Video Services America, a manufacturing duplicating company based in Torrance, Calif., that licensed the patent to the new product.

Although these tapes will not go up in smoke when the limited number of plays are completed, they will erase themselves and cannot then be re-recorded, said Roberts.

"It becomes inoperative as a normal cassette," said Bob Pfannkuch, chairman of Rank Video Services America. He said the technology for this type of videocassette has been around for three to five years.

However, it will be the first test-marketing of this type of tape that could have a profound influence in the $8 billion videocassette industry. The first title has not yet been selected.

Introduction of the new tapes, which will have green cases to distinguish them from the typical black cases, could meet strong initial demand for popular movies, said Roberts.

He said retailers lose from 5-20 percent of their potential business because frustrated customers who cannot find their first-choice movie leave without renting anything.

A retail outlet currently pays more than $60 for a movie title and cannot afford to stock it in depth. However, with the disposable tapes programmed at 20 plays, that retailer could buy the same movie for about $30, he said.

"The goal of this is not to replace the traditional black tapes," said Roberts, who explained that retailers would still buy the permanent tapes but would also purchase the green disposable movies for "depth of copy."

However, the head of a nationwide organization of independent video retailers said the reported problem of overwhelming demand for popular movies has been overstated.

"Our consumer surveys show that customers are generally happy and that 60 to 70 percent of the time they get their tape," said John Power, president of the non-profit, 2,500-member American Video Association, based in Chandler, Ariz.

"The disposable tape in theory is being promoted in a way that could sound attractive to retailers," Power said.