Where have all the average films gone, a long time passing? Where have all the B movies gone, a long time ago? They’ve gone to the shelves of the local video store, every one, there to be rented one night when bored with nothing better to do. Oh, when will we ever learn?
Not anytime soon. “The Recruit,” starring Al Pacino and Colin Farrell, is the latest byproduct of Hollywood’s recent spy/espionage/CIA film binge. Considering the talented cast and intriguing premise, the film’s most impressive accomplishment is how utterly unimpressive it turns out to be. Not good enough to praise, but not quite bad enough to make fun of, “The Recruit” exists somewhere in the awkward netherworld of mediocre films.
Head CIA recruiter Walter Burke (Pacino) woos computer whiz/boxer/ bartender James Clayton (Farrell) into joining the CIA’s training program while hinting about the mysterious death of Clayton’s father. Though skeptical at first, Clayton eventually enrolls. During his training, Clayton and his fellow recruits are subject to a battery of psychological and physical tests, equipped only with their wits and Burke’s oh-so-sagacious advice, “Nothing is as it seems”.
This turns out to be the best wisdom the film has to offer. And good luck trying to forget it. In practically every scene thereafter, someone reminds us that “nothing is as it seems.” It is when Clayton hooks up with one of his peers, the lovely Layla (Bridget Moynahan), and begins to uncover dirty CIA secrets that the movie seems to be going somewhere. As we experience growing tension, there’s always someone in the movie continually reminding us that, still, nothing is as it seems. In lieu of creating actual tension, the film tells us (over and over) that tension is being created. Meanwhile the scenarios we’ve conjured in our heads make us think the movie’s suspense will pay off in the end. It doesn’t. Remember: nothing is as it seems.
One of the few things worse than a thriller without suspense is a thriller that interprets its own meaning for you. “The Recruit” excels in this department. In one scene Burke tells Clayton that he is motivated to appease him because Clayton sees him as a father figure. Hey, thanks for telling us. It’s almost like the movie comes along with its own Cliff’s Notes. Listening to Pacino’s narrative makes one think they are watching the DVD with the audio commentary turned on. Overly expository dialogue like this defeats not only the plot, but mars the acting put forth by Pacino and Farrell as well.
Which is a shame. Because 10 years from now, while in the video store, there will sit “The Recruit” with a bunch of stupid taken-out-of-context film review quotes like, “impressive,” “suspenseful” and “incendiary.” You’ll think, “Say, that looks alright.” After renting it, you will watch it and pass out before it’s even over. Just don’t forget to turn the commentary off. And the sound.