The Recruit . Touchstone Pictures presents a film directed by Roger Donaldson. Written by Roger Towne, Kurt Wimmer and Mitch Glazer. Running time: 105 minutes. Rated PG-13 (for violence, sexuality and language). Starring Colin Farrell, Al Pacino, Bridget Moynahan, Gabriel Macht.

The Recruit

The climax of The Recruit, the latest in a seemingly endless string of Colin Farrell movies, has the villain inexplicably detailing his entire plan to the protagonist - without any logical reason to do so. In fact, the main reason he does feel the need to blurt it all out would be a compelling reason to keep his damn fool mouth shut.

This kind of inept contrivance, mixed with the screenplay's multiple predictable (not to mention ridiculous) plot twists, are just enough to send this movie, which I was very much enjoying up until the final forty-five minutes, into a tailspin from which it never recovers.

Colin Farrell is James Clayton, a top-notch MIT student who, while at a software demonstration, is approached by Walter Burke (Al Pacino), a CIA operative. Burke, impressed with Clayton's intelligence and high test scores, offers Clayton a job with the CIA. James is reluctant, but is convinced when Burke drops some hints that he knows some interesting information about James's father. At "The Farm" - the CIA training center - James meets Layla (Bridget Moynahan), a fellow trainee, and quickly falls for her. Eventually he is selected to be a "narc" - an unofficial agent, whose existance would not be verified by the CIA if caught. His first job is to root out a double agent within The Farm.

For the first hour or so, The Recruit is an enjoyable spy thriller. The scenes at The Farm - although completely unrealistic, I'm sure - are intriguing and very well done. After James's recruitment as a narc, the movie is still going strong, as James tries to find out any information about the double agent. However, through this all, I knew how the movie would end.. In fact, I figured out the main "surprise" within the first twenty minutes - and I suspect the majority of movie-goers will too. As the movie progressed, I liked it enough to fervently hope that the screenplay wouldn't go where I thought it would. And then it did.

Colin Farrell is effective as James, if not superlative. Farrell is a good actor, but he has yet to be truly challenged by a role, and he handles this performance very much like his is Minority Report (which was very good - stealing scenes from Tom Cruise is impressive indeed). Al Pacino, as usual, is deliciously over-the-top, and his speech to The Farm about why people join the CIA - "It's not the money…sex…or fame. It's because we believe." - is great to watch. Bridget Moynahan is a fresh face and a capable performer.

The action in The Recruit is largely gun-free, which is a nice change of pace from the typical thriller. Until the final thirty minutes, the characters are forced to use other things than bullets to make an impact. In the context of the movie, the characters are reasonably intelligent (except for the villain at the end), although it is somewhat ponderous that the number one student in his MIT class would be unable to figure out what was really going on.

I really wish I could recommend The Recruit. I really do. But it's Agatha Christie-like contrivances (the blabber-mouth villain), and ridiculous plot twists nearly ruin the experience. The movie isn't bad - in fact, for a January release, it's pretty good - and I don't think typical American audiences will really mind the problems all that much, but Hollywood screenwriters shoud take notes. With the increasing number of plot twists in recent films, it has become much more easy to guess what is really going on. Ironically, the best way to surprise audiences any more is to play it straight, and go with what makes sense. The Recruit is a perfect example of why this is true. In trying too hard to surprise, it strays away from what makes the first hour of the movie as enjoyable as it is.

© 2003 Matt Noller