'The Recruit' has hot people and "hoo-wah" in it


Published: Sunday, January 26, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 29, 2003 at 4:46 p.m.

"The Recruit" does what every good spy movie should do, at least for its first two-thirds: It makes covert operations, in the name of something as stodgy and buttoned-down as patriotism, look sexy and exciting.

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50% of the hot people. 100% of the "hoo-wah"

Facts

Motion Picture Association of America rating definitions:

G - General audiences. Generally crappy and boring.

PG - Parental guidance suggested. We're talkin' "Teen Wolf" here. Still not very fun.

PG-13 - Special parental guidance strongly suggested for children under 13. You might hear the word 'ass' or even see one. Still, this kind of terrible rating is generally designated for Adam Sandler movies.

R - Restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian. Now we're talking.

NC-17 - No one under 17 admitted. Oh YEEEEAAAAh.

It helps a great deal that the film has sexy and exciting co-stars in Colin Farrell and Bridget Moynahan, and we get to enjoy the voyeuristic thrill of watching them endure the rigors at CIA training camp.

As recruits James Clayton and Layla Moore, Farrell and Moynahan learn how to pass a lie detector test, blow up cars and practice surveillance on fellow students - and look great doing it. Even flirting at a bar and bluffing at poker become part of the game.

The veteran spy who discovered them and is grooming them, Walter Burke (Al Pacino), plays plenty of mind games of his own.

At a restaurant, Burke says nonchalantly to James, "Don't look now - by the bar, we're being followed." But are they really? And when James is kidnapped and tortured, we don't know whether it's real or an elaborate simulation.

Burke also instills in them a timely sense of duty.

"Our cause is just," he says. "Our enemies, everywhere." It's a line that could have been lifted from President Bush's State of the Union address this week.

His real mantras though, are "Trust no one" and "Nothing is as it seems."

So it's not exactly a surprise to discover through a series of increasingly unbelievable double-crosses that the seemingly good people are bad, and vice versa. It took three writers (Roger Towne, Kurt Wimmer and Mitch Glazer) to come up with the big climactic twist, but you could have anticipated it back when Burke found James, who was a hotshot at MIT.

Burke tells James that he suspects Layla is a mole, and sends him to find out what she's after and who she's working with. James and Layla had an instant attraction for each other, so Burke figures it shouldn't be too hard for James to seduce her to accomplish his mission.

He also dangles nuggets of information about James' father, who died in a plane crash in Peru in 1990, and may have been a spy himself.

James is torn - Layla's hot, and he kinda likes her - but decides duty to country is more important.

Director Roger Donaldson seems comfortable in this political-thriller territory, having already walked Washington's halls at the Pentagon (1987's "No Way Out") and the White House (2000's "Thirteen Days").

Donaldson keeps the cat-and-mouse game lively - if predictable - until the very end, when Pacino goes on a seemingly endless tirade. It's the kind he's become known for in such films as " ... And Justice for All" and "Any Given Sunday," and it's become such a staple of his repertoire, it's rendered him a caricature of himself.

But Farrell proves again he can hold his own against anyone - period - from Tom Cruise in "Minority Report" to Bruce Willis in "Hart's War" to Pacino here.

And he has a ton of chemistry with Moynahan, who didn't get nearly enough to do as Ben Affleck's girlfriend in "The Sum of All Fears" or as John Cusack's fiancee in "Serendipity." Here, she finally has a co-star who's gorgeous and can act.

"The Recruit," a Touchstone Pictures release, is rated PG-13 for violence, sexuality and language. Running time: 115 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.

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