By Ralph Novak
Updated March 19, 1990 12:00 PM

Sean Connery, Alec Baldwin

Sonar pinging! Torpedoes whirring! Klaxons sounding! Talk of bow thrusters, dive angles and taking the conn!

So what if the past 45 years or so have been fallow times for undersea warfare. Stick a broom on the projector and sail back into port, everybody; this is first-rate adventure stuff, an all-missions-accomplished submarine movie.

As far as character development goes, things never get much past the name, rank and serial-number level. The Soviet characters display a seemingly whimsical tendency to vary among (1) talking to each other in Russian with subtitles, (2) talking to each other in English and (3) responding in English when American characters talk to them in Russian with subtitles. And the dialogue by screenwriters Larry (The Presidio) Ferguson and Donald (Missing) Stewart sounds as if it comes from G.I. Joe cartoons: “When you’re playing chicken, you’ve got to know when to flinch.”

Nonetheless, director John (Die Hard) McTiernan bypasses the high-tech jargon of the Tom Clancy novel the story comes from and gets to the point: A Soviet sub captain, whose vessel is powered by a new silent propulsion system, is on his way to defect to the U.S. The Soviets want to sink him; so do a lot of Americans.

The chase is on, and a most tensely mounted one it is.

McTiernan makes good use of his actors. Connery, as the Soviet captain, has no problem acting resolute; Baldwin (Beetle-juice) adds a bemused quality to his role as a CIA analyst. Both actors finesse their characters’ implausibilities.

The supporting cast is shipshape, especially Richard (The Secret of My Success) Jordan as a cynical presidential adviser; Jordan has only a few scenes but he sets them to crackling. Sturdy too are Scott (The Right Stuff) Glenn as a U.S. submariner, James Earl Jones as the CIA chief and Sam Neill as Connery’s first officer. (Ex-Watergate lawyer Fred Thompson, overplaying as an American admiral, is an exception, chewing on his drawl as if he’s imitating Joe Don Baker.)

The Soviet government has acknowledged that Clancy’s plot is not all that unlikely: A mutinous Soviet officer took over a destroyer in 1975, apparently intending to defect. But even without that verisimilitude, this would be an ideal guys-night-out movie. Make room in the pen that includes Above Us the Waves, Destination Tokyo, Operation Pacific, Up Periscope, Run Silent, Run Deep and the 1968 Rock Hudson vehicle, Ice Station Zebra (which Red October resembles). This one’s a classic too. (PG)