“The Recruit” is a non-event movie that offers nothing new to the spy genre. The filmmakers may think they have a clever plot on their hands, but it is nothing but a re-read of “The Spy Who Came in From the Cold,” “Three Days of the Condor” and the recent “Spy Game” molded together to form movie mush. A major theme of this film is deception, but it can’t even deceive us into believing this is a good movie.
Al Pacino plays Walter Burke, a CIA trainer who recruits James Clayton (Colin Farrell) to be a secret agent for the U.S. government. It is no wonder why Burke would choose this guy, since he happens to be an athletic and debonair MIT computer genius with a flair for espionage work. (Already the suspension of disbelief is out the window. In real life this guy would have a fat ass and back pimples, riding a Mountain Dew and Doritos high while surfing the Internet for porn. The closest he’d come to spy work would be imitating Sean Connery saying, “Ms. Moneypenny.”)
Clayton jumps at the chance to be a spy and willingly follows Burke to Langley. While proving to be a natural spook at the Farm (the nickname for the CIA’s training facility), he falls for a fellow trainee named Layla (Bridget Moynahan), who, of course, happens to be as good as he is. However, tensions escalate between them when Clayton learns that Layla may be a mole stealing an important government computer program and is ordered to find out who she is working for. They begin to play a giant cat and mouse game without much play.
A big reason the film doesn’t work is that the plot doesn’t actually start until two-thirds into the movie. The first hour is a giant montage of training scenes that depends heavily on smooth editing and overbearing music to tell the story. This doesn’t have the short attention span of a Michael Bay film, but it comes close. We don’t learn anything new about the characters we didn’t know fifteen minutes into the movie. He’s smart, he’s smart, she’s smart; and they all work their own deceptions. One could watch the first ten minutes, take a nap and resume the film thirty minutes to the end and not miss much, if anything. (Actually one could go watch one of the spy movies mentioned above and skip this all together.)
Pacino is relatively good through most of the film. But here we have movie star Pacino, rather than actor Pacino, who turns into clich? Pacino by the end of the film. Clich? Pacino is the gruff old timer who yells out dialog to rattle whomever his prot?g? may be (Chris O’Donnell, Keanu Reeves, Colin Farrell). It’s as if the Oscar for “Scent of a Woman” has pegged him into only giving that performance over and over. Granted, clich? Pacino is still pretty good.
The film should get high marks for referencing Kurt Vonnegut’s “Cat’s Cradle” for one of its major plot devices, which happens to be the cleverest thing in the whole film.
Stephen Allan can be contacted at [email protected]