The title sounds like a bad joke — "Amos & Andrew." Unfortunately, the movie is just as bad.

Not that "Amos & Andrew" is intended to be in poor taste. In fact, this is a bold attempt to satirize racial stereotypes in the hope of saying something profound about race relations in the '90s . . . how far we've come, yet how far we have to go.

Sadly, the film can't decide whether to go for stark social satire or wild slapstick comedy, and the mix here just doesn't blend.

Samuel L. Jackson, who first came to our attention as the drugged-out brother of Wesley Snipes in "Jungle Fever," and has most recently tried his hand at off-the-wall comedy in "National Lampoon's Loaded Weapon 1," here plays a Pulitzer Prize-winning author who purposely tries to rankle the white establishment through his writings.

The film begins as Jackson is setting up his new summer home, a luxury house on an exclusive resort island in New England. His neighbors (Michael Lerner, Margaret Colin) don't realize the house has been sold and when they see through the window a black man with a stereo in his arms, they assume he is a thief.

They call the local police, and chief Dabney Coleman and his bungling deputy Brad Dourif respond to the scene. When Jackson comes out on the porch, Dourif starts shooting.

It isn't long, of course, before Coleman recognizes Jackson — and his mistake — and decides to try covering up the incident. Coleman goes back to his jail and strikes a deal with career criminal Nicolas Cage: Coleman will get Cage into Jackson's house and Cage will say he broke in to rob Jackson. Then Coleman will arrest Cage and when things quiet down, let him go free.

Naturally, everything goes awry — the media comes on the scene, Coleman doublecrosses Cage and Cage and Jackson (the "Amos & Andrew" of the title) find themselves on the run.

There are some funny moments here, especially Cage's explanation of his childhood fascination with "sea monkeys." And both Cage and Jackson deliver very good performances, with a realistic edge and some comic invention.

But the script lets them down, Dourif's slapstick antics get tiresome rather quickly, and Coleman brings far too hard an edge to his nasty police chief.

Screenwriter E. Max Frye ("Something Wild") wrote "Amos & Andrew" and makes his directing debut here. But despite some good ideas and a few amusing moments, he is simply unable to make it all successfully jell.

"Amos & Andrew" is rated PG-13 for violence, profanity and drug abuse, specifically marijuana smoking.