(director: Roger Donaldson; screenwriters: Roger Towne/Kurt Wimmer/Mitch Glazer; cinematographer: Stuart Dryburgh; editor: David Rosenbloom; music: Klaus Badelt; cast: Al Pacino (Walter Burke), Colin Farrell (James Clayton), Bridget Moynahan (Layla), Gabriel Macht (Zack), Mike Realba (Ronnie), Karl Pruner (Dennis Slayne), Dom Fiore (Instructor No. 1); Runtime: 105; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Roger Birnbaum/Jeff Apple/Gary Barber; Touchstone Pictures; 2003)

“To get your money’s worth from this film, I suggest you walk out before the last 15 minutes.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Roger Donaldson (“No Way Out“/”Thirteen Days“) directs this slickly done nonsense CIA thriller that is scripted by Roger Towne, Mitch Glazer and Kurt Wimmer. Donaldson does a decent job with this disposable material until the film self-destructs in an ending that should satisfy either a certifiable lunatic or a jaded film critic with blurry eyes for only the entertainment value of a film, who has attended one too many screenings that don’t know how to end and has become indifferent to whether a film should make sense or not. “The Recruit” has less plausibility than a James Bond yarn, which is saying a mouthful, but its love story has even less plausibility than the far-fetched plot (which is saying something heartfelt). But there is a good chemistry to be found in the interplay among the film’s three stars led by some tasty ham sliced out by Al Pacino as the grizzled-CIA-mentor Walter Burke; followed by the seething inside but underplayed performance by Colin Farrell as James Clayton, the recruit who is the MIT grad computer whiz-kid with a sculpted tuft of hair, a prison-like tattoo on his arm and, of course, is also a boxer (not your usual type of computer geek, but more like a fictional movie stud); and, last but not least, matching photogenic screentime with the boys is the luscious-mouthed, curvaceous, Bridget Moynahan as Layla Moore, the possible mole in the training program and the romantic interest of Farrell.

The film opens as Clayton is recruited by Dell with a big money offer because of his genius Spartacus software program he demonstrates at an MIT job fair. He turns down that $200,000 offer for the one of lesser pay but more glamor made by shady CIA recruiter Burke in the bar where the wonderboy works as a bartender. Supposedly, he takes the CIA position because he wants to learn the truth about his father, an oil executive, who died mysteriously in a 1990 plane crash in Peru and could have been a CIA agent. The fatherless Clayton gravitates toward Burke as his surrogate father and clamors for his love and acceptance, but once recruited Burke clams up and continually speaks in epigrams such as: “I don’t have answers. Only secrets.” And, Burke voices the often repeated mantras of the film: “Nothing is what it seems” and “Trust no one.”

During the entrance exam the rebellious Clayton makes eye contact with the alluring Layla and almost forgets to complete the test until reminded by the snooping Burke. He also meets on the bus to the CIA boot camp the nearly always smiling Zack (Gabriel Macht), a former Miami cop and friend of Layla’s who speaks English, Spanish and Farsi, but who speaks Farsi with Layla. They learned Farsi because they thought it would help them get placed in the CIA, which might be the only logical explanation this film has for anything.

Burke is the gruff, devil-like goatee wearing, know-it-all, senior instructor of the class in Langley, where the recruits are being trained in a remote area known as the Farm (filmed in Ontario). The training consists of the usual things you will find in a make-believe movie that bases its spy reality on the James Bonds films, such as classes in surveillance, of trainees questioned while a lie detection machine magnifies the eye to search for signs of dilation, of them blowing up cars, of them detecting room bugs, of them working with superweapons and biodegradable listening devices, and of one of them being taken hostage and tortured. When Clayton washes out because he breaks after 15 days when taken hostage, he’s only told when he’s back in Boston on a drinking binge that was only faked because he has earned top of the class honors and has been chosen to become a “noc” (non-official cover operative), and his first job is to tail Layla and find out who her contacts are as a double agent. Burke tells Clayton that she’s a mole stealing the top-secret Ice 9 software program, a killer virus modeled after the weapon of mass destruction that can destroy the world written about in Kurt Vonnegut’s novel Cat’s Cradle.

The story winds down to its totally unbelievable conclusion as the cloak-and-dagger paranoia stuff mixes in with the contrived love affair between Layla and Clayton. Pacino will ultimately let go of all the mystery surrounding him and show his stuff as the now crazy mentor. In the process, his sometimes Southern accent intermingles with his lingering childhood Noo Yawk accent as he gains the spotlight and becomes the Talking Head who explains the complexities of the plot to the viewer, which is not an easy or wise thing to do. The first two acts I could have lived with as perhaps justifiable entertainment geared for what I would imagine to be a primarily Republican audience who get off on those with CIA badges, but the third act is so ridiculous that I feel like anyone is a ‘sucka’ for sticking with this one for the whole course. To get your money’s worth from this film, I suggest you walk out before the last 15 minutes.

The Recruit Poster