For the first of its nearly two hours, "The Recruit" is just the sort of diverting, slick nonsense you expect and want when handsome devils like Al Pacino and Colin Farrell play CIA spooks. Directed by Roger Donaldson with loads of off-kilter camera angles, and written by Roger Towne, Kurt Wimmer and Mitch Glazer, whose collective credits range from "Cocktail" to "Great Expectations," the film has a setup nearly as preposterous as "Spy Game," Tony Scott's superior confabulation of guns, guts and blond-on-blond glamour. Only this time ... everyone's a brunet.
The unreality begins with Farrell as James Clayton, another one of those seductive software geniuses of which the movies are so enamored (he's not only top of his class at MIT, he also boxes and brandishes insouciant tattoos), being approached by a stranger in a bar. A romance of the Oedipal variant begins, in which the fatherless Clayton seeks the approval of Pacino's father-like CIA recruiter, Walter Burke. One thing leads to another and before long, Clayton is being all that he can be (and more) at the agency's training compound, where future black-baggers major in torture and technology while big daddy Burke drones on about duty and country.
Although the training looks neat -- target practice one moment, surveillance the next -- the writers insist on wedging love and intrigue into the mix. Not surprisingly, Clayton's affair with another recruit (Bridget Moynahan) generates more suspense, mainly because the dating game seems even more fraught with peril and paranoia than the spying game. (Frankly, none of the cloak-and-dagger stuff is as gripping as the Southern lilt that occasionally infiltrates Pacino's New Yorkese.) Then, too, no matter how seriously everyone works to make the CIA impossibly sexy, the illusion that these pencil pushers are incarnations of Bond, James Bond, is difficult to sustain. Like "Maid in Manhattan" and "Pretty Woman," "The Recruit" is little more than a fairy tale, one in which the prince gets to go to the ball before shooting it to smithereens.
MPAA rating: PG-13, for violence, sexuality and language.
Times guidelines: Some gunplay, bloodshed; chaste bedroom grappling.
Al Pacino ... Walter Burke
Colin Farrell ... James Clayton
Bridget Moynahan ... Layla
Gabriel Macht ... Zack
Mike Realba ... Ronnie
Touchstone Pictures and Spyglass Entertainment present a Birnbaum/Barber production, released by Touchstone Pictures. Director Roger Donaldson. Writers Roger Towne, Kurt Wimmer, Mitch Glazer. Producers Roger Birnbaum, Jeff Apple, Gary Barber. Director of photography Stuart Dryburgh. Production designer Andrew McAlpine. Editor David Rosenbloom. Costume designer Beatrix Aruna Pasztor. Music Klaus Badelt. Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes.
In general release.