Michael J. Fox is Nick Lang, a Hollywood megastar best known for playing an Indian Jones-type fantasy-action hero named Joe Gunn. (His latest opus, Smoking Gunn II, is about to be released.) Nick enjoys all the usual movieland payoffs: money, fame, and endless parade of willowy groupies. But now, like the Joel McCrea hero in Sullivan's Travels, he's starting to crave respect as well. He's up for the lead in a serious urban police thriller, and to make sure he gets he part, he decides to hand out with real-life supercop John Moss (James woods). Moss is on the trail of a psychotic killer (Stephen Lang) and wants absolutely nothing to do with this pip-squeak thespian. Fox and Woods are both intensely verbal actors, and the two have such entertainingly diverse personalities Fox with his boyish, wide-eyed alacrity, Woods with his grungy hostility that we sit back happily and wait for the sparks to fly. Instead, we get a lot of damp wood. Half an hour into the movie, we realize it's going to be nothing more than another noisy buddy comedy about two guys in a police car one a veteran, the other a know-nothing rookie getting on each other's nerves. The director, John Badham, has brought the contemporary action comedy to a new peak of slick, propulsive emptiness. The amazing thing about The Hard Way is that, despite the high-powered matchup of Fox and Woods, it manages to be every bit as mechanical and tedious as Badham's last outing, the dismal Bird on a Wire. Once again, Badham has crafted an action comedy as relentless perpetual-motion machine, a two-hour car-crash movie in which the characters, between heavy-duty chase sequences, pelt each other with third-rate insults. We never do figure out why Fox is playing a Harrison Ford type (it would have made more comic sense to cast him as a Judd Nelson-style Brat Pack Method actor). and though Woods gets off a few good lines, his huffing and puffing becomes terribly repetitive. In the end, there are only so many variations an actor can do on ''Get out of my face, creep!''