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THE RECRUIT

Company Business

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"You guys make the best stuff," says a fat, bald, slobbering enemy spy -- with a generic European accent and a Big Mac in his mouth -- as he interrogates a young CIA agent in The Recruit. "No country with a McDonald's has ever attacked the United States."

That quip is the best thing The Recruit has to offer, aside from Al Pacino, whom we'll get to a little later. Directed by Roger Donaldson (No Way Out), from a script and story worked over by three guys with profitable Hollywood résumés, it's the sort of routinely muscular paranoid romantic espionage psychological action thriller you've seen a million times, unsalvageable on the face of it, but with a few things that might have worked with an overhaul in serious hands.

The story's requisite ingénue is James Clayton (Colin Farrell, the young Irish actor), a computer genius who's invented a broadcast-technology program that he's trying to sell to Dell. Then he meets Walter Burke (Pacino), a "scary judge of talent" who recruits the unpatriotic wag into the CIA by using knowledge of his dead father as bait.

At The Farm, the CIA's sylvan training camp, James (not "Jim") endures challenges to his body and his mind. He falls for Layla (Bridget Moynahan), a member of his recruiting class. Things go well for James until they don't, at which point more things happen and a plot kicks in. I'm being vague so as not to ruin the suspense if you decide to see The Recruit, although I'm a scary judge of movies, and I'd recommend you don't.

Early in The Recruit, before James joins The Company, we learn (from Burke) that CIA job applications have increased tenfold "lately," and also (from James) that the agency is "a bunch of fat old white guys who fell asleep when we needed them most." That's a pretty tetchy Sept. 11 crack from a slick movie that ultimately wants to reassure us that the system works (or else, you can bet, it would never have been released). The long training sequence in The Recruit recalls the first half of Full Metal Jacket in the sense that you wonder if it's all true. For if it is, then you can fall asleep tonight knowing that Your Government can watch you and hear you if it wants, any time and any place. So maybe you'd better just remain an irrelevant nobody and hope it doesn't want.

The Recruit is vaguely entertaining, with "twists" that'll boost your ego when you see them coming, and with nothing at stake in any of them. Farrell masks his Irish accent impeccably, and I suppose he's a competent actor, albeit frequently flat and thoroughly unmemorable, aside from his good looks. Compare him to Pacino, who's incapable now of failing to make us believe his every word. Did he "find" this character and give him depth? Hell, no: The guy's not God. But when he sucks the juice out of a crab leg and licks his fingers clean, you'll swear you haven't eaten in days. * *

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