Movies like “The Recruit” follow a simple formula.

There is always a hero, played by some hot new star, who may have talent, or at least the good looks. There is always a mentor figure, played by some seasoned veteran star, who starts off gruff, but usually warms up to the young hero. Of course, there is also an attractive love interest for the young hero.  

This formula has often had box office success, even when it lacks any real substance; “Top Gun” and “Days of Thunder” are two excellent examples of this formula. “The Recruit” raked in $27 million in the first nine days of release, so it may well be on its way to riding the formula to box office success. 

“Recruit” tells the story of a young man who is recruited for the CIA. Colin Farrell caught the attention of many critics for his role in “Tigerland” a few years ago and last year had a pivotal role in Spielberg’s “Minority Report.”   

In “Recruit” he plays James Clayton, an intelligent young man trying to find his place in the world. Farrell is a gifted actor who fills his characters with emotions, and his work here is strong. Clayton has issues from his past that draw him to the work of the CIA, and Farrell transmits those issues on the screen. This back story is referred to often in the film, and gives the film some emotional gravity. 

Clayton is recruited by Walter Burke, a man who is fond of saying, “Nothing is what it seems.” He says this so often that it almost becomes annoying. Al Pacino returns to a flamboyant role after a brief recess in understatement earlier this year in “Insomnia.”   

Pacino is one of the finest actors working today, and though this film is light work, he delivers a good performance. Early on, Walter recruits James with the kindness of a used car salesman. After James is enrolled in the program, Walter becomes the teacher everyone loves to hate. 

Bridget Moynahan rounds out the “formula” trio as a fellow CIA trainee who becomes Clayton’s adversary, then his love interest. Moynahan also delivers a fine performance. The chemistry between Farrell and Moynahan is fun to watch, though it is less exciting once they give in to their feelings than when they are sparring. 

The best moments in the film all come during the first hour while the trio is together at the CIA training facility known as “the Farm.” There are moments during the training that are humorous, some that are intense, and many that are prophetic of things to come. 

Once the lead characters leave the training program though, the film becomes a spy thriller that is less than satisfying. There are some logic lapses in the plot. The final twist is a let-down, too.  

Ultimately, the overall quality of the film suffers because the second half does not support the inventive opening and first half of the film. Good performances and a compelling first half are not enough to support a weak plot filled with holes.   

All three of these actors deserve better than this film. With the theaters filled with all the contenders for this year’s Academy Awards, a discriminating filmgoer certainly can find much better company for two hours. “The Recruit” is the kind of film best viewed on video.

Roger Thomas is pastor of Northeast Baptist Church in Atlanta. 

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for violence, sexuality and language

Director: Roger Donaldson

Writer: Roger Towne, Kurt Wimmer and Mitch Glazer

Cast: Walter Burke: Al Pacino; James Clayton: Colin Farrell; Layla: Bridget Moynahan.

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