Michael Corleone... Tony Montana... Walter Burke? Nah. Al Pacino's latest incarnation isn't close to indelible. But credit to the veteran acting great that he picks bill-paying projects as brisk and enjoyable as this slick spy caper. Perhaps he could give Robert De Niro some advice.
Shouty Al's an out-to-pasture CIA agent who spends his time down at The Farm, the training base for new combatants in the USA's silent war against the world. "Our cause is just, our enemies everywhere," Burke tells his trainees, including Colin Farrell's sparky computer he-man James Clayton (when did geeks get so good-looking?).
Bollocks to that. The Central Intelligence Agency was responsible for horror after horror in the late 20th century. Fortunately, however, The Recruit is no flag-waver for Bush Jr: as with Tony Scott's adrenalised spook-show Spy Game, people take precedence over politics. And, to be honest, Farrell could massacre Chilean kids while eating fried chicken and singing `The Star-Spangled Banner' and he'd still be irresistible.
His screen presence is scary. Look at it this way: in comparable Pacino-starring two-handers, the younger acting partner suffers. Keanu Reeves was blitzed in The Devil's Advocate. Even John Cusack struggled in City Hall. Here, Farrell batters his legendary co-star in most of the many scenes they share. It's not that Pacino is bad - far from it. It's just that Farrell's charisma makes it hard to care about anyone else.
Which is just as well, because there's not much emotional depth to the solid but unsurprising script. As with fellow Farrell-starrer Tigerland, The Recruit is at its most compelling during the training sequences. The Farm is a fascinating, formidable place, where would-be international (wo)men of mystery are continually monitored and pitted against each other, their movements scanned by CCTV, their nights out just another opportunity for professional humiliation. "Everything," Burke warns, "is a test."
Lured into the CIA by Burke's entreaties and promises of information about his MIA father, Clayton, of course, turns out to be a natural at this espionage lark, willing to do anything to pass the gruelling, constant examinations - including humiliating fellow student/love interest Layla (The Sum Of All Fears' Bridget Moynahan, who proves more than a match for her male co-stars despite having notably less screen time).
But when the action moves to CIA HQ, the tension slackens as the double- and triple-crosses mount and the `surprise' ending becomes obvious. Even here, though, Thirteen Days helmer Roger Donaldson manages piques of interest, with enjoyably daft computer buffery and an effective chase sequence. And there's always Farrell, who hints at further spy potential with the Connery-inflected delivery of an obvious-but-amusing "Bond, James Bond" reference. Farrell as 007? The campaign starts here.