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Review: 'The Recruit' doesn't succeed

Film's strengths undermined by weak script

By Paul Clinton
CNN Reviewer

Al Pacino plays a CIA recruiter and instructor, and Colin Farrell is "The Recruit."

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(CNN) -- For the most part, "The Recruit" is a taut drama involving CIA recruit-in-training James Clayton (Colin Farrell) and his recruiter, Walter Burke (Al Pacino). But it eventually trips over its own plot twists and can't quite shake its predictability.

The Pacino and Farrell characters begin a dangerous spy game that may or may not be real. Soon, the beautiful trainee Layla, played by Bridget Moynahan, is added into the mix. But then things start to get dicey: James and Layla fall in love, and find that even -- maybe especially -- in the heart of the Central Intelligence Agency, everyone and everything is not necessarily who and what they really are ... or aren't.

Confused? You won't be alone.

The script for "The Recruit" was written -- and re-written -- throughout the production. Moreover, even when you're not confused, one other thing becomes glaringly clear -- and very early in the film: you know who the bad guy is almost from the get-go. And the plot structure will bring deja vu to anyone who saw "Training Day" (2001), for which Denzel Washington won best actor at last year's Academy Awards.

Sharp Farrell

Although Pacino gets top billing, this is really Farrell's picture, and he's quite good as the brooding young man looking for purpose -- and a father figure -- in his life. This is a slow time of year at the multiplex (except for the Oscar wannabes that are just now getting national distribution), so the marquee value of these two names may draw a crowd for opening weekend, but it's doubtful this will be the vehicle to make Farrell a household name.

Bridget Moynahan plays Farrell's love interest, someone he may -- or may not -- want to get involved with.

The most interesting element of the film is the supposedly inside look at how the CIA recruits and trains its operatives. How much is really right out of the training books and how much is Hollywood creative license is unclear, but the sessions are exhausting, both physically and emotionally.

However, one must assume some details are correct, since CIA spokesperson Chase Brandon, a covert field operations officer for 25 years, was on the set providing inside tips about the Agency's facilities, training methods and recruitment processes. (Although, in classic CIA style, he reportedly refused to confirm or deny that such training even took place!) At least one thing is clear in the movie: in the world of spooks and spies, paranoia is not just a state of mind, it's a high art form.

Moynahan is very convincing as Layla, the strong-willed woman who goes toe-to-toe and heart-to-heart with Farrell's character. She displays a perfect combination of toughness and vulnerability that's perfect for her character. Another standout is Gabriel Macht, who plays Zach, another member of the training group, who becomes embroiled in the action between the three main leads.

Farrell is a major star just waiting to happen. His intensity, edgy style, and bad boy attitude are reminiscent of Russell Crowe, and of course comparisons are already being made.

It's no 'No Way Out'

"The Recruit" presents an insider's view of the CIA, thanks to an adviser on the film.

Director Roger Donaldson directed one of my favorite spy thrillers of all time, "No Way Out," starring Kevin Costner. He also directed "Thirteen Days," once again with Costner, and he does know how to build tension and get you on the edge of your seat. But this talent only works if the script does, and once again the villain is obvious from very early on -- which was most definitely not the case with "No Way Out."

The editing by David Rosenbloom ("Primal Fear" and "Deep Impact") is impeccable, adding a great deal to the overall sense of pace, confinement and uncertainty needed for this drama. Klaus Badelt's ("K-19: The Widowmaker") music also works in the same way to more the action along.

But no matter how good the various elements of the film are, it always comes down to the script, and this one is left wanting.

In all honesty, I'm not one of those moviegoers who make a point of trying to figure out the bad guy's identity from the get-go. I just let the story carry me along -- and with this one, it didn't take me far.

"The Recruit" is not a bad film, it's just not a very good one.

"The Recruit" is rated PG-13. The film opens Friday across the country.

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