Sylvester Stallone plays Ray Quick, an explosives expert who doesn't own a tie, and Sharon Stone plays May Munro, a woman who hires Quick to avenge the murder of her parents and who doesn't own a bra, in The Specialist (Warner Bros., R). Comparison with the work of Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson is probably not worth discussing.
What is worth conferring about, however, is this: If a movie is a loud, glitzy, bone cruncher with a script about as graceful as a wad of Bubble Yum and acting about as deep as a tin of Fancy Feast and still it provides a good time is that movie good in spite of itself, or because that's what bone crunchers are supposed to do? If a movie takes itself seriously as a high-testosterone action flick but the audience howls in indulgent appreciation, does the credit go to the filmmakers (this baby is directed by Peruvian action maker Luis ''Lucho'' Llosa, who made 1993's forgettable high-testosterone actioner Sniper)? Or to the movie-wise audience that knows that the only thing to do when presented with the comic-book spectacle of Stallone's glistening gluteus maximus is to whoop and applaud?
Is Sly smart like a fox for playing a grunting ex-CIA whiz whose biggest theatrical challenge is to deliver the moving speech ''You got no mercy. You got no f---in' loyalty. And you got no code!'' to his former partner and present nemesis, Ned Trent (James Woods), or dumb like an ox? Is Sharon Stone scratching the surface of her talents by playing yet another sexy broad who lives to lure men and who wears spectacular clothing spectacularly, or bumping up against the limits of her range?
Discuss. Meanwhile, step back in awe of Rod Steiger's howler of a Hispanic accent as Joe Leon, head of the criminal Leon family. ''Joo ... joo ... joo bassstar' !'' he rages, choppers clicking, eyeballs rolling, in a fixation on joo to give Annie Hall's Alvy Singer agita. Ogle the menacing, stitched-up face of Eric Roberts as Joe's ruthless son, Tomas. Give in to the elaborate shower scene between Stallone and Stone sex has never been so soapy, so unsexy, between two people so uninvolved with each other and so deeply involved with themselves.
And when all else palls, admire the truly good acting of Woods, who knows just what he's doing, who brings real excitement to his nutso-nasty role, and who, in a show of what excellent high-testosterone acting is supposed to look like, steals this awful, awfully amusing production. C+