The Recruit

(2003) ** Pg-13
105 min. Touchstone. Director: Roger Donaldson. Cast: Al Pacino, Colin Farrell, Bridget Moynahan, Gabriel Macht, Mike Realba.

Excerpts from the CIA (Hollywood branch) Spy Manual:

1) Clearly define mission parameters.
The Recruit tells the tall tale of James Clayton (Colin Farrell), a young buck recruited by the CIA. This MIT grad/bartender (huh?) is an easy mark, having been obsessed for years by the mysterious disappearance and presumed death of his father. Looking for answers about his father and himself, Clayton grudgingly accepts the offer of grizzled recruiter Walter Burke (Al Pacino). The veteran Burke regularly intones "Nothing is what it seems" as Clayton and fellow recruit Layla (Bridget Moynahan) go through rigorous training at "the Farm" and eventual service in a convoluted mission involving an invaluable, super-charged computer virus.

2) Assemble a crack team.
Farrell is a star waiting (apparently in vain) for good material. Excepting the little-seen Tigerland and his supporting turn in Minority Report, Farrell's obvious talent and wattage has gone sorely underutilized. Moynahan's pouty remoteness serves her ambiguous part as well as anyone. Director Roger Donaldson makes a sound fit to the materal, having done "government work" on Thirteen Days and No Way Out.

6) Set the bait.
Pacino--a well-known quantity--brings legitimacy and a loyal audience in to see what, here, plays like a tired dog-and-pony show. To lure Pacino, one need only dangle some hammy speeches. A cursory examination of Pacino's work in the last fifteen years will unearth a wealth of such monologues, some substantially better than others. In The Recruit, Pacino's patented energy looks haggard, constantly fighting to break through obvious and derivative material packaged as formal and informal lectures.

7) Study past ops.
The Recruit offers little new (and certainly little credible) about spy training. Adopting a tone just slightly more subtle than a Jerry Bruckheimer vehicle, Donaldson occasionally manages to feel a pulse, as in a train station action sequence. But if Enemy of the State was a Buena Vista update of The Conversation, The Recruit is a witless instant rehash of the recent Spy Game and, in a misguided, half-ass, nouveau-Welles climax, Touch of Evil.

9) Know your enemy.
With the incremental repetition of the lines "Don't trust anyone," "Everything is a test," and "Nothing is what it seems," screenwriters Roger Towne, Kurt Wimmer, & Mitch Glazer seriously underestimate audiences who've sat through plenty of these crappy movies. The writers use shorthand in all the wrong places (character development, for one) and use up large chunks of screen time replaying spy genre clichés and defeating their own surprises.

13) Nothing is what it seems.
Despite a slick veneer and fancy Kurt Vonnegut allusions, The Recruit is about as deep as a cesspool, and not much more entertaining or healthy. Watchable only for its star power and scarce caffeine kicks, this empty three-character study lazily mines father-son issues (and boyfriend-girlfriend trust issues) and plays chinese checkers with its plot points, but mostly just lies around. For a movie so obsessed with its own so-called twistiness, The Recruit is awfully predictable.

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Aspect ratios: 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen

Number of discs: 1

Audio: 5.1 Uncompressed, 5.1 Dolby Digital

Street date: 6/3/2008

Distributor: Buena Vista Home Entertainment

With another handsome hi-def transfer from Buena Vista, The Recruit slides onto Blu-Ray looking good (and sounding good, thanks to muscular uncompressed 5.1 and Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks). All of the DVD extras are ported over here, starting with one of the most entertaining commentary tracks you'll ever hear, featuring the friendly twosome of director Roger Donaldson and star Colin Farrell, who swears up a (bleeped) storm and tells tales out of school about costar Al Pacino.

The disc also includes four Deleted Scenes (6:34 with "Play All" option and optional commentary by Donaldson and Farrell): "James Serves Drunk" (1:15), "Grab Your B'@#$" (:34), "Cocktail Party—Elliot is Cut" (3:46), and "James Brings Beer to Zack" (:59). The third scene is so good (featuring a speech by Pacino), that it's surprising Donaldson cut it at all. Lastly, "Spy School: Inside the CIA Training Program" (15:58) features actual CIA training footage and comments from Donaldson, producers Roger Birnbaum and Jeff Apple and, primarily, CIA officer Chase Brandon—it's a brief, nice (if melodramatic) explanation of what the CIA is looking for in recruits, and what they can expect if chosen.

Though it's not one for the ages, The Recruit is a passable time-waster, and Pacino completists will want to snap it up in Blu-Ray if they haven't already.

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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