- The Washington Times - Friday, January 31, 2003

Blowing a golden opportunity for media synergy in the same week that Time magazine has showcased the dash and derring-do of clandestine CIA operatives, "The Recruit," the new spy thriller starring Al Pacino as a CIA recruiter, sticks too close to home.
In contrast to "Spy Game," it never even gets its young apprentice spy into the field. As a result, after a promising and colorfully detailed depiction of CIA training school, "The Recruit" never goes anywhere.
The recruit of the film's title is James Clayton, a computer whiz from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who also works part time at a Cambridge bar. Portrayed by Colin Farrell, with the inevitable stubbled jaw of today's young leading man, Clayton is introduced on a would-be-endearing note of forgetfulness: He oversleeps on the morning he is supposed to demonstrate a clever new program, Spartacus, for the Dell representative at an electronics trade fair.
The tardiness is a red herring; Spartacus is the plot detail planted for later maturation. While tending bar, Clayton is approached by the recruiter: Al Pacino as a CIA veteran named Walter Burke, who seems to regard the purported computer brainiac as a natural for clandestine adventure as an operations officer. There are hints that Clayton's father, an oil company executive who died mysteriously when the young man was in his teens, might have been involved in an ill-fated agency mission.
Despite the fact that Mr. Pacino doesn't exactly generate immediate confidence, Mr. Farrell is an easy catch. He enlists as a trainee, giving the movie perhaps a 45-minute grace period while it simulates the strenuous training regimen at a CIA camp called the Farm.
During this grace period, spectators might entertain the fantasy that "The Recruit" will do as much for CIA training as "An Officer and a Gentleman" or "Top Gun" did for naval aviation.
Two other cadets are permitted to emerge from relative anonymity: Bridget Moynahan as dishy Layla Moore, who becomes romantically involved with Clayton, and Gabriel Macht as Zach, a good-humored, clean-shaven specimen who dwarfs Mr. Farrell and looms as a potential rival.
The locales range a bit parochially from Langley to Georgetown. Moreover, the theater of conflict itself remains internal and internecine at a time when it might be more effective to project outward and contrive perils in corners of the world where sworn enemies of the United States are spoiling for a fight.
The office-bound focus leaves the movie with limited options. You can cook up some kind of treachery that pits the three young performers against one another in a spy-vs.-spy formulation.
Or you can turn to Mr. Pacino's Burke as a lurking source of doubt: From the outset, his suspicious attributes are as pronounced as his disarming or avuncular ones. The Pacino track record allows you to go either way, of course, because he has played gallant and admirable characters at least as often as he has played diabolical figures.
Burke seems to accentuate weary, disillusioned notes. Possibly telltale clues with a specifically local interest: He complains about a GS-15 salary and litters the grounds of the Iwo Jima Memorial with a burrito wrapper. Anyway, he clearly is intended to keep the audience guessing until the denouement settles the question: mentor or fiend, stout heart or sellout?
Unfortunately, the modest grip on CIA tradecraft and authenticity that director Roger Donaldson maintains during the training footage vanishes down the stretch, when he's obliged to get dynamically silly with a shootout chase at Union Station and then a frenzied car chase in the woods near Langley.
The movie abandons all claims on novelty and joins the ranks of shamelessly arbitrary thrillers. At that level, it's not sufficiently brazen, ostentatious or ridiculous to compete with the likes of "XXX" or "Die Another Day." The theatrical death knell may sound within two or three weeks.
*1/2
TITLE: "The Recruit"
RATING: PG-13 (Occasional graphic violence, sexual candor and profanity)
CREDITS: Directed by Roger Donaldson. Written by Roger Towne, Kurt Wimmer and Mitch Glazer. Cinematography by Stuart Dryburgh. Production design by Andrew McAlpine. Costume design by Beatrix Aruna Pasztor. Music by Klaus Badelt
RUNNING TIME: 118 minutes
MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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