140 – The Recruit

There are two kinds of stupid movies: the ones that are loud and stupid, with their explosions masking their inherent dopiness, and the ones that are quiet and stupid, whose glaring improbabilities in the plot are revealed with every daring swoop their hero makes.

Guess which one this is.

Movies that are loud and stupid serve a purpose; that is, as escapist fare. These movies allow us to be distracted by the cool special effects, and plot is a distant second priority. The focus is on Our Hero and how he will Save the Day. But the quiet ones, oh, their stupidity is glaring, like a boil that desperately needs lancing.

The Recruit has a nifty premise. James Clayton (Colin Farrell) is recruited to become a CIA agent by Walter Burke (Al Pacino). Burke tells Clayton and the other recruits several times at a super-duper-secret facility known as The Farm that nothing is as it appears, and they should trust no one. Sadly, our intrepid hero doesn’t remember this from scene to scene. James, naturally, falls for a fellow recruit, Layla (Bridget Moynahan), and it’s not long before Burke uses her to “test” James.

There are some wrinkles afoot. For one thing, James lost his dad years ago in a mysterious helicopter accident. Was the elder Clayton working for the CIA? He’s not sure. By the time this movie’s over,
you might not be too sure, either, and unfortunately, you won’t care.

If a movie is highly dependent on plot twists and turns, it must make those twists plausible. Overanalyzing a movie is never a good thing, because doing so takes all the fun out of watching them in the first place. This is why it’s perfectly okay for an action movie to be implausible – we don’t need it to be so for us to enjoy it.

But The Recruit must be plausible for it to be enjoyable, and there were several moments during the movie where the “oh, come ON” quotient was very high. “Oh, come ON!” I cried to the dog next to me. “Why would he do that?” or “Oh, come ON! Man, James is an idiot for not figuring this out!”

You see, if I can be several steps ahead of the hero plotwise, that’s not a good thing. It means that the screenwriters (in this case, Roger Towne and Kurt Wimmer) were lazy and couldn’t be bothered with
a story that made sense. And to top it off, the hook of “is it real or is it a fake?” simply isn’t effective when it’s overplayed. The audience doesn’t like it when you tell them things aren’t as they seem and then follow it up by making everything not what it seems. We need something to hang on to.

Another thing that irked me a little bit was how dumb some of the characters were. This would be fine if the characters were supposed to be bumbling oafs, but these were allegedly CIA recruits! They’re awfully obtuse for people who should be able to think themselves out of situations.

As for the acting, well; this is the first time in a while I can remember Al Pacino being outhammed. Pacino runs hot in cold; sometimes he’s Acting Al, getting deep into his character, and other times he’s Crazy Al, simply overacting. The latter wins in this case, but Farrell easily outhams him. Every emotion is overdone to the point where we as an audience find it tough to root for him. Then
again, I’m sure there are many out there who don’t give a darn how well Farrell acts. But if it’s a pretty boy you’re looking for, let’s try to keep them contained to pretty boy movies, not supposedly slick thrillers.

The Recruit is quite long (155 minutes), and might have been improved if it had been shortened by about an hour. It’s overblown, overdone, and a waste of talent and a good idea.

The Recruit: **


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