After glasnost, a bit of thrill is gone from Le Carre flick

VIDEO

July 26, 1991|By Josh Mooney | Josh Mooney,Los Angeles Times Syndicate

THE RUSSIA HOUSE

MGM/UA Home Video

$94.99

The end of superpower tensions, and the ascendancy of glasnost, permeate this screen adaptation of John Le Carre's novel. They also, it must be said, diffuse the tension and drama that made earlier Le Carre material work well on screen.

The idea that, while tensions ease, the spies of both sides continue their dark business because they don't want to lose their jobs is fascinating on one level, but director Fred Schepisi doesn't manage to capture whatever urgency there is in this tale of espionage in a changing world. Couple that with the non-heat generated by stars Michelle Pfeiffer and Sean Connery, and you have a lackluster film, technically well-made, but never captivating.

In an innocent-man-over-his-head set-up almost worthy of Hitchcock, "The Russia House" gives us Connery as Blair, a boozy British publisher who reads a lot and, being an aging hepcat, plays the sax, but otherwise, stays out of trouble. By chance, visiting Russia, Blair meets a brilliant Russian scientist (Klaus Maria Brandauer) who attempts to smuggle a manuscript to him -- one which, don't you know, "could alter the global balance of power."

Why, then, don't we the viewers quite buy the dramatic enormity of these events?

Much of the power of a Le Carre novel is in the details he includes which provide an "insider's" perspective. Schepisi and screenwriter Tom Stoppard are more interested here with creating a star vehicle.

Steve Martin wrote the screenplay for, and stars in, this enjoyable comic fairy tale set in Los Angeles, a city, he makes it clear, he likes quite a bit. This is an easygoing, breezy, fantasy of a love story and it shows L.A. in a glorious light.

Mr. Martin plays TV weatherman Harris K. Telemacher (the name is zanier than the character) who seems to have what everyone in Tinseltown craves -- a high-exposure, high-salary job (albeit one that makes him feel ridiculous), a trendy girlfriend and a laid-back lifestyle.

Fairy tales have happy endings, and this film is no exception. It's not really a challenging or engrossing film on any level -- indeed a case could be made that it's a series of jokes loosely connected by a main theme -- but it's fun to watch.

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