THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


The Recruit is the latest film to use the age-old plot device of having a veteran of some field pass along his knowledge to an eager young "newbie." In this case, the veteran is Walter Burke (Al Pacino), a CIA spook in charge of recruiting and training new operatives. He sets his sights on James Clayton (Colin Farrell), an MIT grad who has just co-developed a new kind of remote satellite technology for computers. One night in the bar where Clayton moonlights, he is approached by Burke, who says he "fits the profile" to be an agent. Clayton isn't particularly interested until Burke suggests he has some knowledge about the younger man's long-lost father. (Ah, that old familiar motivation - wanting to know what happened to the long-lost father.)

Clayton soon signs up and is taken, along with a group of other trainees, to "the Farm" - a covert training facility in Virginia. There, he is skilled in all kinds of fighting maneuvers, plus he learns how to tell if someone is lying by watching the size of their pupils. He is even subjected to torture. You can be reasonably sure the film does not portray CIA training accurately, given that one of Clayton's missions is to enter a bar and find a willing sexual partner within ten minutes. That's training for MTV's "Real World" perhaps, but not the CIA.

During his time at the Farm, Clayton meets Layla Moore (Bridget Moynahan). At first their relationship is adversarial, but there's also an undeniable attraction. Later on, Burke tells Clayton that someone within the agency has been stealing a top secret computer code. His suspicion is that Layla is the culprit, so he assigns Clayton to get close to her and retrieve the code. The mission grows more and more complicated, causing Clayton to remember Burke's first-day warning: "Nothing is as it seems."

From that line of dialogue, you can probably guess that The Recruit is one of those movies that carries you along for an hour and 45 minutes, then tries to pull the rug out from under you in the last fifteen. Well, it doesn't quite work here. There are so few essential characters in the movie that it's not hard to spot the bad guy. Even worse is the fact that the screenplay makes a blunder all too common in movies with similar plot twists: once the bad guy is revealed, that person suddenly becomes a radically unhinged loony who feels the need to over-explain his/her motivations. This happens long enough for backups to arrive and save the hero. A lot of times, movies have great concepts but don't know where to go with them. That's certainly the case here.

I have started with the bad things in The Recruit however, and those bad things are really only distracting in the final act. Sure, parts of the film are familiar, and there are plot holes big enough to fly a Black Hawk helicopter through, but there's also a lot of fun to be had here. The early parts of the screenplay (inaccurate though they may be) are really entertaining. The fact that it's not especially realistic is part of the appeal. Imagine a 10-year old boy's fantasy of what joining the CIA might be like, and that's what you get. You learn to kick some ass, you meet a pretty girl, and you save the world. Not a bad deal.

Director Roger Donaldson (No Way Out) paces the movie briskly, never quite letting you think too much while you're watching it. I mean that in a good way. There's energy to the picture, and that energy swept me up and kept me involved. The performances are certainly a benefit as well. Pacino - always a watchable actor - seems at home in the role of the CIA spook. He's got that seen-it-all quality that makes the part work. Colin Farrell interacts well with him. Here's an actor who has such raw presence on screen that you can't help but be fascinated by him. If anything, Farrell gives the movie a much-needed human element. That old veteran/newbie thing may be old, but it still hums nicely if you stick the right performers in it.

The Recruit is kind of a disposable movie. Ask me about it a few years from now and I may have a hard time remembering it. Of course, not every movie has to stay with you forever. Some of them only need to be with you for two hours. That's why it's called "entertainment." It is on this level that I recommend the movie. Although it's always kind of a bummer when a film lets me down with a lame ending, I have to admit that everything preceding the ending was fun. Ask nothing else from The Recruit and nothing but fun shall you receive.

( out of four)

The Recruit is rated PG-13 for violence, sensuality, and language. The running time is 1 hour and 52 minutes.

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