WRITER-DIRECTOR GUS Van Sant (""Drugstore Cowboy,'' ""My Own Private Idaho'') has become a one-man counterculture in the movie industry. That's a tough job, as his new film, Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, demonstrates. Based on Tom Robbins's 1976 best-selling novel, the movie was scheduled to open last fall, but went back into the editing room when it was received coolly by film-festival audiences. Van Sant has not been able to pull it together. The story, about Sissy Hankshaw (Uma Thurman), a virginal innocent whose outsize thumbs make her the world's greatest hitchhiker, and her encounter with a rebel band of lesbian cowgirls, comes through as a scrappy and anachronistic remnant of the hippie days.
There are just too many half-cooked ingredients in this utopian stew of a movie: the gender-bending Countess (John Hurt), who markets feminine-hygiene products; the cave-dwelling guru called The Chink (Noriyuki ""Pat'' Morita); Delores (Lorraine Bracco), who leads the cowgirl revolt at the Rubber Rose Ranch, run by Miss Adrian (Angie Dickinson); Bonanza Jellybean (Rain Phoenix), the lesbian cowgirl with whom Sissy finds true love, and lots more. As his movies become bigger, the gifted Van Sant is losing control of their form and meaning. ""Cowgirls'' is like a counterculture pinata scattering messages -- freedom, feminism, love -- all over the place. Moments of lyric sweetness are swamped by moments of malarkey. As The Chink would say, Van Sant needs to find his true center.