Just the Ticket could have worked. It's easy to see why writer-director Richard Wenk became fascinated with the cinema-verit possibilities in a film inspired by the life of a slick New York scalper he once knew. And an actor as good and as versatile as Andy Garcia would understandably be intrigued by the idea of playing such a character. But you need more than a good idea and one colorful character to make an engaging, entertaining movie. Like, you need a script-preferably a script with coherent action and entertaining, believable dialogue.

Let's talk about coherence-and the lack of it in the character named Gary Starke, the ticket scalper Garcia plays with such brio. He's alternately a charming rogue, a savvy street hustler, a reckless lawbreaker, a social and intellectual dimwit and an insensitive s.o.b. It's the charmer we meet first, as Gary sits in a church confessional telling a priest about this wonderful girl, Linda, whom he loves and has apparently lost. We don't know what their relationship had been, or why it's over. But we gather from Gary that he's willing to do just about anything to win her back.

As Linda, the love object, the usually wonderful Andie MacDowell appears uncertain, almost reluctant, from beginning to end. Other than her looks, there's little here to inspire passion, for Linda does not seem to be a clever girl, and her personality is less than captivating. It's difficult for her to emit even a spark of enthusiasm, for example, when she's cited as a star pupil at a famous culinary school. Forced into making a date with Gary, she listlessly lets him come along with her as she caters a dinner party for a society matron. The following kitchen sequences provide an opportunity for a bit of madcap comedy, but, try as they might. Andy and Andie cannot squeeze a zany moment out of Wenk's anguished efforts to create a scene of some style and wit. It falls as flat as a botched souffl.

This kitchen bit is remarkable for one thing, though, and that is the delightful cameo appearance of Irene Worth, the revered stage actress, as the scattered sherry-sipping society matron. In fact, Just the Ticket is absolutely studded with delightful cameos: Elizabeth Ashley as Linda's frowzy mom; Donna Hanover (TV newswoman and the New York Mayor's wife) as a prim real-estate agent; pantomist Bill Irwin as a slightly odd insurance man; Ron Liebman as a straight-talking, behind-the-scenes manipulator; Abe Vigoda as a world-weary underworld type; and prizefighter Joe Frazier as his pugnacious self.

Another offbeat and talented group of actors play Gary's ever-present street pals-and enemies. Of primary place among them is Richard Bradford as Benny, Gary's ticket-scalping mentor, a reviled and ridiculed old duffer who manages to come through for Gary when it counts. (By the way, an example of what might be considered the movie's best dialogue comes when Benny says to Gary, 'You're all I've got, kid, I got nobody else.') Laura Harris does a fine job with the role of Cyclops, a sad, pregnant and drug-addicted hanger-on, and Andre Blake is a menacing Casino, the 'island man' who decides to move in and take over Gary's ticketing territory.

Now, about this ticket-scalping business. The plot, such as it is, revolves around an opportunity for Gary to rake in some big money (after which he'll retire, go straight and win back his true love) by controlling a block of tickets to an Easter Mass being said by the Pope, John Paul himself, at Yankee Stadium. Before Gary actually gets to that big event, though, he encounters and/or creates lots of other scalping opportunities, some of which turn into disasters, and he engages in endless, barely comprehensible insider gossip with his fellow scalpers. Just the Ticket never makes clear exactly how ticket scalping works, or what illegalities are involved-although an ability to dodge the cops is apparently part of the job description.

What is clear, however, is that in his role as director, Wenk could not resist the temptation to do the John Cassavetes cinema-verit thing, taking to the streets of New York-with a truckload of long lenses, hidden cameras and wireless microphones-to capture the action of his players amid the bustling atmosphere of the city. Thus, there's a plethora of crowd scenes, with Garcia and others trying their darnedest to emote or be funny while getting jostled about on Manhattan's crowded, summertime sidewalks.

--Shirley Sealy