"THE WHISTLEBLOWER" is a spy thriller that stays so controlled, it never quite comes in from the cold. The British production is as decent a job as it is dry and unemotional. Director Simon Langton and screenwriter Julian Bond have spent their energies on plot niceties, but not on people.

A potshot at the British Official Secrets Act, "Whistleblower" will enjoy a topical potency -- thanks to the Thatcher government's futile attempts to suppress ex-spy Peter Wright's tell-all book, "Spycatcher."

But on its own merits, "Whistleblower" is not quite the esoteric, high-intrigue indictment it wishes to be. The idea is to show how Britain (the country of cricket and fairness) has become a Big Brother society, as extreme as the Soviet Union. And this story, about a secret service whistleblower's mysterious death, would seem to illustrate that perfectly.

But "Whistleblower" is all intellectual and literal -- lifeless as a government eyes-only memorandum. It's a connect-the-dots puzzle, rather than a story, with a confusing array of names: a Dodgson, a Goodburn, Greig, Bruce and Kedge. The dialogue is plot-functional ("When I talked to X, he said this and that, and Q and I did such and such.") The people carry the plot around like worker ants.

Bob Jones (Nigel Havers), a decoder of Russian transmissions for an intelligence HQ, has become disillusioned. A fellow employeehas been exposed as a Soviet mole and the company is investigating its employees for further double agents. Jones is also on to some political shenanigans within the service that involve a high-up British official. Bob tells his father, Frank (Michael Caine), a fleet airman in the Korean War, that he wants out of the dirty stuff -- "the private world" of spy-versus-spy.

Frank thinks his son is off-course, but then Bob dies under mysterious circumstances. Frank discovers the trail his son was following, which leads to civil servant Sir Adrian Chapple (Sir John Gielgud) and an agency-wide conspiracy. By the end of it all, Frank -- like his dead son -- no longer believes in the system, or his country.

Caine, who brings a winning idiosyncrasy to almost every film he makes, plays cockney prince again. As the haggard but determined father who has to face an unpleasant truth, he puts human vital signs into the film, but the overall effect of "Whistleblower" is that of a dry-cleaning job. Cleaned, pressed, $5 please.

THE WHISTLEBLOWER (PG) --

At the Outer Circle.