Michael Apted's CLASS ACTION is sharply made and well acted, even if it's little more than a TV series pilot masquerading as a movie, as well as being one of those instances where Hollywood tackles social issues and makes you wish they hadn't.

Maggie Ward (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio) is a feisty, conservative law associate who practices at one of those Incredibly Huge Law Firms that specialize in crushing little people like you and me in court so their fat cat corporate clients can get away with selling murderously defective

merchandise with impunity and well-padded profit margins. The human interest comes from Maggie hating her dad, Jedediah Tucker Ward (Gene Hackman). Jed wins cases for us beaten-down little people types against those corporate types who are Maggie's bread and butter. He's also cheated on dear sweet

mom Estelle (Joanna Merlin), has a swollen ego and abandons people after winning their cases for them.

But, of course, that's not the point. Jed's just a flawed regular guy with an excess of passion and too many clients. The real point is that anyone who can hate Jed as much as Maggie does has to have some serious problems. In addition to that, by "enlightened" Hollywood standards single career

women remain, by definition, screaming bags of self-destructive neuroses. Consequently, Maggie comes on loud and strident and has the pinched, pinned-back look of someone whose watch is wound way too tight. Her personal and professional lives are on a fast track to hell. She sleeps with her

conniving boss, Michael Grazier (Colin Friels), and drinks herself into idiocy each night to anesthetize her guilt over what she does for her bosses each day.

It's not a pretty picture. However, we know that father and daughter will get back together from the fade-in as surely as we know that Gilligan and the gang will never get off the island. What brings them back together is a lawsuit filed by Jed against a big car company, represented by Maggie,

over a deadly defect allowed to go uncorrected to save some bucks. In only the most glaring of the film's long list of jaw-dropping implausibilities, the head of the car company, Dr. Getchell (Fred Dalton Thompson), frankly confides to Maggie that his company is basically guilty as hell, which

means that the only way Maggie can win is by cheating. In cold-blooded careerist fashion, she goes along for a while. But, after a late-night heart-to-heart with Jed, she does exactly what you knew she was going to do from the start.

Its shameless predictability is only one of many factors that contributes to the overall TV thinness of CLASS ACTION. Its one-note characters don't help. The script is slickly crafted, and could even have been slickly enjoyable if it didn't take itself so seriously. Michael Apted's direction

bludgeons the audience even harder than it bludgeons Maggie with its telegraphed plot twists and crude emotional manipulations, making simple enjoyment all but impossible. But its simplistic look at the legal system and corporate politics make it impossible to take it seriously as anything else.

The work of Hackman and Mastrantonio keeps the action afloat and more credible than it deserves to be. With them, CLASS ACTION still isn't drama, but it is an incredible simulation. It will make you want to cheer, even if you're not quite sure why, and start checking your TV Guide to see when it

will settle into its regular weekly time slot. (Profanity, adult situations.)