THERE are times when a whole screenful of talent isn't enough to guarantee a good movie. A prime example is the new drama ``Everybody Wins.'' It stars two of Hollywood's most attractive current performers: Nick Nolte, with his usual blend of the tough and the gentle, and Debra Winger, who always manages to be appealing and down-to-earth at the same time. The screenplay was written by Arthur Miller, the distinguished author of ``Death of a Salesman'' and ``The Crucible,'' among other important stage works. This is the first original movie script by Mr. Miller since ``The Misfits,'' with Clark Gable and Marilyn Monroe, which came out in 1961.
To round out the roster of talent, ``Everybody Wins'' was directed by Karel Reisz, a gifted British filmmaker whose pictures include the classic ``Saturday Night and Sunday Morning'' and the hilarious ``Morgan!'' as well as ``The French Lieutenant's Woman'' and the powerful ``Who'll Stop the Rain,'' which gave Mr. Nolte one of his best roles during the 1970s.
``Everybody Wins'' also has a timely story to tell. It takes place in a small New England town, where everybody knows everybody and the local private eye used to work for the local district attorney. Partly because of a rivalry between these two, the detective agrees to take on a difficult case: proving that a young man - in prison for a horrible murder - is really innocent.
The investigator soon finds evidence to show this. Along the way, he also discovers that the police knew who the real killer was all along but didn't do a thing about it. Soon he's uncovered a mountain of corruption involving half the officials in town - and casting as much blame on the murder victim as on the killer himself. What's behind this diabolical situation? One of the most urgent problems facing many communities around the United States: drugs, and the misery they always bring with them.
THE subject of ``Everybody Wins'' couldn't be more relevant, and everybody involved with the picture seems to be putting a lot of energy into it. Yet the story just lies there on the screen, refusing to come alive for more than a few fitful moments. What went wrong?
Miller's screenplay has a lot to do with it. The dialogue often sounds artificial and stagy, and the performers - veterans though they are - have trouble getting their mouths around it. The story doesn't move smoothly toward a climax, either. It lurches along, surrounding occasional good scenes with others that are clumsy and lifeless.
The one consistently strong aspect of the film is Will Patton's performance as a burned-out religious fanatic. Jack Warden also does his best with a small role that often seems tacked onto the rest of the movie. I commend those actors for almost transcending the poor quality of the film as a whole. But a couple of on-target performances aren't enough when everyone else and the screenplay itself keeps missing the mark in scene after scene. ``Everybody Wins'' is a nice, upbeat title - but I'm afraid the audience isn't included.