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THE BONDS OF 'REVENGE' // Kevin Costner and Anthony Quinn take male bonding to a level in film

On a cool, damp and somewhat misty December afternoon, two men walk across a meadow, rifles in hand and hunting dogs baying as they advance toward a cluster of pine trees in pursuit of their prey. The age difference between them is such that they could be father and son, and the easy familiarity they display toward each other suggests just that.

Kevin Costner and Anthony Quinn are busy at work, but as the cameras roll, it is difficult to tell where their roles end and reality begins, so comfortable do they seem in each other's company.

Costner and Quinn are the central figures of Revenge, a torrid and

sometimes brutal tale of lust, betrayal and retribution played out against a Mexican backdrop.

But perhaps even more intriguing than the story itself is the pairing of one of Hollywood's most bankable young stars, whose intense but understated performances in movies such as No Way Out and Field of Dreams have led some to call him "the new Gary Cooper," with one of the foremost leading men of the past 40 years, an exuberant personality who exudes machismo from every pore.

"Yeah, they certainly are different," said the director, Tony Scott.

"They are such opposites as actors. But there was a camaraderie between them from the first time I saw them sitting down together. You got a sense that whether they did this film or not, these two guys would always spend time together, and that's exactly what I was looking for."

In Revenge, which opens today, Costner plays Cochran, an Indiana farm boy turned Navy pilot who finds himself at loose ends after retiring from the military.

Quinn is cast as "Tiburon" ("Shark") Mendez, a Mexican millionaire and political kingmaker who also dabbles in the drug trade.

The men transform a casual friendship as tennis partners and fishing buddies into something deeper and more satisfying to both of them; try to kill each other after Cochran falls in love and into bed with Miryea, the young and alluring wife of the older man; but eventually reach a sort of reconciliation.

A triangle, in other words, but one in which the woman at the apex, played by Madeleine Stowe, matters less to the story than do the two men at the base.

"He doesn't know that my love for him is because he is my surrogate son," Quinn, sitting in a director's chair during a break in the filming, said of the relationship between the two male characters.

"Sometimes we older men love a young man and see in him qualities that we had or hoped to have. For my character, there's great pain in losing the wife, but that pain is not as great as losing the friend."

"The truth is that he can trust me, except for that one moment," Costner added.

"The Cochran character resists the temptation three or four times, but then succumbs. The Tiburon character, being cuckolded, he wants to forgive, he wants to let it go by. But finally he can't hold the thing in, and it explodes; it takes over."

Revenge first surfaced a decade ago as a 99-page novella written by Jim Harrison, a practitioner of tough-guy prose in the Hemingway mold, and when Costner came upon it around 1985, he felt an instant attraction.

One sentence in particular, he recalled, stayed with him: "There is an impulse for vengeance among certain men south of the border that leaves even the sturdiest Sicilian gasping for fresh air."

The 35-year-old actor's big commercial successes in The Untouchables and Bull Durham were at that point still to come, but he made an effort to acquire the rights to the work.

"It seemed to me something I wanted to do myself," Costner said.

"I contemplated directing it, because it seemed like a small movie. The story was manageable, but the themes were big and universal, and the writing was tough and it was honest and it was original. There was poignance in the story, but it read like a movie to me."

In the end, the book ended up in the hands of the producer Ray Stark, but Costner's continuing interest in the story and what he called "my history" of box office success helped get the project off the ground.

"To me, it's like picking a football team," Costner said.

"The story made sense, to play the game made sense, and it was obvious that I should play quarterback or end. I mean, Cochran is a role that I should play."

Casting the role of Tiburon, also known as Tibey, was more of a challenge.

"This movie needed Anthony Quinn more than it needed me," Costner said. "I mean, there are probably five or six guys who could play Cochran's role, but who else is there who could play the role of Tibey?"

"The Tiburon character has to be really charming, and Anthony has that in spades," Costner added.

"He has to have danger, and he has to have presence. Anthony has that because he's been a leading man all his life. And he has to be that age. The age is the key, so it's a perfect role for him."

Quinn, who will turn 75 in April, agreed, explaining that he found the role to be a close fit, uncomfortably so at times.

"I think the man is of another time, and his values are of another time," he said.

"It's the Old Country mentality, which also happens to be mine. I think sexual liberation is a lot of garbage. I mean, there's no code, there's no honor.

"It was a question of morality that Tiburon takes the action he does. So that's why I did the picture, that and the fact it's a classic, old-fashioned story that could have been done by John Wayne or Gary Cooper."

"I'm aware that a lot of American women will not understand my behavior, will find it as twisted as all hell," he continued.

"They'll say: 'Well, that terrible man, he slices up the girl's face and then almost kills his friend.' I'm saying that the man can't help it; he was born with that morality. I mean, a hunting dog can't help that he bites."

But Scott, whose director credits include what was perhaps the ultimate buddy film of the '80s, Top Gun, as well as Beverly Hills Cop II and The Hunger, believes that Revenge also is "very much a woman's film, especially in the first half."

As "a powerful, obsessive story about forbidden love, it's what every woman dreams of, of being swept off her feet by someone who comes along."

And in the match-up of Costner and Ms. Stowe, who first came to notice in Stakeout, "you can smell the energy; you can smell the vibrations between the two of them," he said.

Quinn said the dark sexual tension that percolates constantly throughout Revenge and is essential to the story made him wonder at first if he was right for the role of "Shark" Mendez.

"I had my doubts," he acknowledged. "Obviously you know how old I am, and I didn't know if people would accept that I had such a young wife.

"I thought I should be 15 or 20 years younger. But I'm still a very physical man, even now. I play an hour or two of tennis every day. I go walking. I exercise in the morning. I swim an awful lot. And I do see young girls looking at me, so I thought, what the hell.

"I'm very happy to be in this picture," he said, guffawing, "because it is probably the last picture I'll ever do where I get to have a young wife."

"seemed to me something I wanted to do myself," said Kevin Costner, left, with Madeleine Stowe. "I contemplated directing it, because it seemed like a small movie. The story was manageable, but the themes were big and universal, and the writing was tough and it was honest and it was original. There was poignance in the story, but it read like a movie to me."

MOVIE PREVIEW Revenge Director: Tony Scott (above) Cast: Kevin Costner, Anthony Quinn (right), Madeleine Stowe, Sally Kirkland Screenplay: Jim Harrison and Jeffrey Fiskin Rating: R; violence, nudity, profanity Running time: 123 minutes Excellent+++++; Very good++++;

Good+++; Mediocre++; Poor+ Coming in the Saturday Floridian: Times Film Critic Hal Lipper reviews Revenge