An Officer and a Gentleman comes as a surprise on the summer scene. It isn't fantastic or flamboyant or frivolous. It has no spacemen or spooks or magicians. Except for its realistically rotten language and some sexual details, it's a straight-out drama in the old Hollywood style. As such, it works fairly well, though its lapses in taste are sour reminders of the subtlety Hollywood has lost in recent years.
Remember the pictures about handsome young men who learned maturity on the battleground, the battleship, or the airfield? This movie is one of their breed. Set in the present day, it's a peacetime story, so we're spared the combat scenes. But the rest of the paraphernalia is all there - the rigorous training camp, the personal failings to be conquered, and above all, the tough-talking but kindly drill instructor who yanks our hero into manliness despite himself.
So far, so good. The trouble with ''An Officer and a Gentleman'' is that it also wants to be a love story, and in this department it's as flat as it is predictable. There's no spark to the big romance, and the movie's sexual frankness is no substitute. Worse, there's another love affair between two secondary characters - again, a sturdy Hollywood tradition - that begins ''cute'' but ends very squalidly. Once, the moguls at studios like Paramount Pictures knew how to evoke tragedy without wallowing in it. That knack appears to be lost, like so many others.
Richard Gere is solid and likable as the hero, an officer candidate who must expiate his selfishness and learn the values of love and comradeship. Louis Gosset Jr. is first-rate as the sergeant who shows him the way - a neat and underplayed performance of a type we rarely see these days. Debra Winger works hard as the main love interest, but doesn't find the glow she had in ''Urban Cowboy'' opposite John Travolta. The supporting cast is unusually fine.
''An Officer and a Gentleman'' has garnered a lot of praise from some critics , who seem almost bowled over by such old-fashioned craftsmanship. Like the excellent performance by Gosset, the film is a bit of a novelty by current standards, though 30 years ago it would have been quite close to the norm. Times change. But the applause for ''An Officer and a Gentleman'' - to the extent it isn't prompted by the movie's meaner maneuvers - shows that basically traditional filmmaking still has an eager audience.