By Lisa Schwarzbaum
Updated March 08, 1996 at 05:00 AM EST

So this is what American culture has given the French: In a housing project on the outskirts of Paris, young men wearing T-shirts that read ”Elvis Shot JFK” brawl, bait cops, flash guns, and argue, in more reflective moments, whether Tweety Bird is more ”killer” than Sylvester. Filmmaker Mathieu Kassovitz shot the interesting, nerve-racking, but ultimately aimless drama Hate (la Haine), about 24 hours in the lives of three dead-end pals — a Jew (Vincent Cassel), a black (Hubert Kounde), and an Arab (Said Taghmaoui) — in grainy black and white, much of it with a handheld camera. The result is a jittery, propulsive, slangy study of jeunes hommes in the hood, complete with a soundtrack of reggae and rap. There are moments of real anxiety (Vinz, the Jewish punk, is frothing to kill a cop as payback for a friend who was beaten by police). And in a lyrical interlude when the trio takes the train to Paris, Kassovitz turns the boys’ antisocial behavior (they crash an art gallery reception, steal a car, that sort of big-city fun) into comedy. The director is secretly fond of his bad boys, sentimental about their miserable lives: They’re waiting with French sangfroid for their world to crash about their heads. But we never learn why or how they got to this hopeless, furious state, or how a black, an Arab, and a Jew would be sharing ammo and beer in the first place. To us, that’s a nice thing, non? B