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Rated 3 stars
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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Let's Do the Twist
by Jeffrey Chen

Around 600 A.D., a monk situated in the region where France and Italy meet invented the pretzel. He had some leftover dough, fiddled with it, and eventually formed it into its familiar shape, which looked to him like arms folded in prayer. He decided to bake the dough in this shape and hand the treats as a reward to good children who recited their prayers. From this story, we can see the pretzel exists largely because of its twists. Similarly, so does The Recruit; however, it's not nearly as satisfying as a good pretzel.

The Recruit tries hard to work its audience into a second-guessing frenzy just for the sake of doing it. The hero of the flick, James Clayton (Colin Farrell), is subjected to CIA training in a remote facility called "The Farm," where recruiter Walter Burke (Al Pacino) iterates over and over that "nothing is what it seems." The variant of that statement is, "Everything is a test," and numerous training scenarios pound this mantra into James and his fellow trainees, causing them to think nothing is real. The filmmakers hope viewers join in this confusion, spinning our heads so much we can't recall more interesting things like sensible plot details or characters.

So desperate to get its game of "gotcha!" going, The Recruit  doesn't even care if its lead character's motivation is founded on the flimsiest of plot-driving cliches. Burke meets Clayton, a gifted programmer who, for some reason, works as a bartender. (Why? He's a computer guy, not a starving artist. Is the post-dotcom economy that bad?). Burke says, "You're gifted. Join the CIA." Clayton says, "No thanks." Burke says, "I know what happened to your father." Clayton says, "Really? Tell me! You must tell me!" Burke says, "OK, but first you have to join the CIA." Clayton says, "OK."

Well, that was easy -- now Clayton is at The Farm and finding out the hard way, over and over again, that "nothing is what it seems." After some time passes, he asks, "OK, now will you tell me what happened to my father?" But The Recruit doesn't care about your father, Clayton. It just wants you to work even longer for Burke so that, even after you leave The Farm, you can still get caught up in the movie's obsession with out-twisting itself.

It's a good thing Colin Farrell is such a watchable guy. This fellow, with his scruffy Brad Pitt-like looks and wiseguy delivery of quips, has screen charisma to spare. All he needs now is to play a character we can support, someone whose smart attitude is applicable to a situation more believable than this contrived espionage carousel. Throughout the movie, we never get the feeling that his life, or, for that matter, anyone else's, is in serious danger. Thus the movie largely wastes multiple scenes of Farrell doing his dazed-and-paranoid look.

The Recruit also has Al Pacino, who's always fun to watch, even when he's playing a watered-down version of his  blustery room-commanding persona. I sat through the movie anticipating this actor's inevitable scene-chewing monologue, and I was not disappointed. Pacino looked like he was improvising, possibly relishing the opportunity to ramble on and on about something that had to do with the plot. (It was  confusing, so it's hard to tell.) But he did an admirable  smoke-and-mirrors job of trying to make the story seem like it was going somewhere. Still, we know better. After all, we've been warned several times that "nothing is what it seems."

(Released by Touchstone Pictures and rated "PG-13" for violence, sexuality, and language.)

Review also posted at

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