Thursday, January 30, 2003

Doing it all for the rookie

Movie: The Recruit

Posted on Thu, Jan 30, 2003 at 4:00 AM

The Recruit
Length: 1 hour, 45 minutes
Studio: Touchstone Pictures
Release Date: 2003-01-31
Cast: Al Pacino, Colin Farrell, Bridget Moynahan, Gabriel Macht, Kenneth Mitchell
Screenwriter: Roger Towne, Kurt Wimmer, Akiva Goldsman
WorkNameSort: The Recruit
Our Rating: 2.50

Don't confuse "The Recruit" with an intelligent thriller just because its explosion count is low and it stars Al Pacino. Quiet moments can be dumb moments, too. And codswallop that has the good fortune to tumble out of Pacino's mouth is still codswallop.

So it goes in this pulp-fatuous story of one James Clayton (Colin Farrell), a Boston bartender with computer-hacking skills that make him a hot property to the CIA. He also has nepotism on his side: His dad worked for the agency, in a capacity that remains shadowy to both him and us. No matter. As they say in "Animal House," the kid is a legacy.

Recruited by senior agent Walter Burke (Pacino), Clayton passes a battery of tests and boards a bus for the CIA's training farm. In the course of his apprenticeship -- which takes either several weeks or a couple of years, so hazy is the movie's sense of elapsed time -- Clayton finds a new father figure in Burke, a no-nonsense career spy given to gravelly-voiced defenses of the agency's post- Sept. 11 relevance.

Burke eventuallty assigns Clayton to cozy up to a CIA mole who is threatening our national security. Every step of the way, our young hero has to wade through the layers of subterfuge and false identity that are de rigeur for the cloak-and-dagger set. At first, the dangled red herrings are a lot of fun. But after a while, you realize that the mock-complex caper is only moving forward because Clayton is about the thickest trainee in the history of espionage. Viewed from any angle of motivation, there is no way to justify the vast majority of his actions -- let alone those of a fellow student (Bridget Moynahan) with whom he pursues a comically steamy sexual relationship. Yes sir, that Osama won't find us napping next time.

Director Roger Donaldson did intrigue better in "No Way Out" and "Thirteen Days." Then again, he doesn't have much of a writing bullpen to depend upon. Roger Towne (brother of Robert) hasn't generated a script since his debut, 1984's hokey "The Natural," and Kurt Wimmer should still be seeking political asylum for his recent "Equilibrium."

Regional relevance alert: Pacino's character says he's from Ocala. Alert downgraded: He mispronounces it.



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