IF YOU'RE PLANNING to see ''The Russia House,'' you might want to do so with a group of friends. After the movie is ended, you can meet with those friends and see if all of you, collectively, can decide what the film is about.
It will take a little work, but that's what the movie is, work. Like the book, it is big, talky and dense. It does have its assets. One is Michelle Pfeiffer as the Russian woman who sneaks a manuscript to an employee of a British publishing house. Another is Sean Connery as the Englishman for whom the manuscript is intended.
The publishing house is taking part in a book fair in Moscow, and the lady presents the package to the man attending the booth. It is not meant for him. It is meant for Barley Blair (Connery), who had met the author of the book and promised to respond should he ever be called on to behave with honor.
The book's premise is that Russia has no real strike force, that it is in no way prepared to wage any kind of hot war against the United States.
Of course, the film takes place today, in a different Russia, so peace is not exactly what the author of the book seeks. He does want that, but he also wants to let the United States know that it is no longer necessary for them to maintain the arms race.
British and American agents enter the picture, and that's when ''The Russia House'' becomes almost impenetrable. You do know, by the time the film is ended, what has happened, more or less, but there are a lot of questions that linger.
This is partly because the film, with script by Tom Stoppard, is frequently done as overlap, the narration by one individual overlapping the action of others. It doesn't make for clarity.
Pfeiffer, though, is superb. She and her accent are most authentic. You can really believe that this is a Russian woman who wants to do something meaningful.
The background music is also a plus. It goes so well with the scenery, another definite asset. Much of the film was shot on locations in Leningrad and Moscow.
Beyond all the talk, ''The Russia House,'' based on the book by John Le Carre, says something interesting about loyalty and betrayal. In the end, there is betrayal (of one's country) of a sort, but it is totally understandable, and that is interesting because we wouldn't have tolerated this in the '40s and '50s. It would have been unthinkable then. Today, thanks to glasnost and the collapse of communism, it is quite acceptable, within the context of the script.
''The Russia House'' was directed by Fred Schepisi. He probably did all that could be done, considering the source. There was no way you could turn this into a real suspense movie.
''The Russia House'' opens here today.
''The Russia House''
** A Russian scientist passes a manuscript to an Englishman, and intelligence agents wonder why he has done this.
CAST: Sean Connery, Michelle Pfeiffer, Roy Scheider, James Fox, John Mahoney, Klaus Maria Brandauer
DIRECTOR: Fred Schepisi
RATING: R (language)
RUNNING TIME: 120 minutes