Recruited actors not quite enough

Colin Farrell plays James Clayton, an M.I.T. graduate with a penchant for drinking and not waking up on time. After nearly sleeping through a meeting with a Dell recruiter, Clayton is tending bar when Walter Burke (Pacino) approaches him. Burke is a gruff, aging CIA recruiter keen on bringing Clayton to “the Farm,” a double-secret CIA training facility.

At the Farm, Clayton learns to be a young American James Bond. He even falls in love with the requisite female agent, Layla Moore, played masterfully by Bridget Moynahan (Ben Affleck’s flame in “The Sum of All Fears.”)

After cracking under the pressure of a staged interrogation, Clayton is dismissed from the Farm, only to have Burke track him down and bring him back into the CIA fold as a deep-cover spy. At this point, the plot starts bounding from one twist to another, with computer hacking, subway gunplay, old-school car chases and endless double- and triple-crosses. Amazingly, no twist or thrill seems particularly contrived, but the sequence of one after the next is just too spectacular to believe. Even as his world begins to dissolve around him, Clayton is single-minded, certain that the turns of events are nothing more than the next steps in his ongoing recruitment drills. “Everything is a test,” he repeats like a mantra as his newfound spy world collapses.

While the trio of screenwriters, Roger Towne, Kurt Wimmer and Mitch Glazer, must have had a field day creating these twists, the story starts to get lost and muddled. Even in the film’s straightforward opening moments, the script is often laughable, with some of the lesser characters delivering lines hammed up with emotion to hide the script’s weaknesses. The screenwriters even decided to toss in throwaway references to “Miami Vice” and “The A-Team,” no doubt the writers’ favorite shows at one time or another.

Pacino and Farrell’s performances far outpace the banal writing of the script. In a classic display of chauvinistic one-upmanship, the two play off each other well, as can be expected from the pair, though neither is at the peak of his ability. The up-and-coming Farrell stacks up well against the veteran Pacino, though his similar role as a government operative in “Minority Report” showed far more breadth. Likewise, Pacino is retreading old ground, as is particularly evident in his final-scene monologue, during which his brewing madness pales in comparison to his convincing insanity in “Insomnia.” This is an old role for Pacino, though quite a few steps up from his preachy “Simone.”

Despite the small step back for Farrell, he is still one of Hollywood’s hottest properties, and rightly so. “The Recruit” opens up a season of all-but guaranteed hits for Farrell. Farrell is a cast member of the upcoming Ben Affleck blockbuster “Daredevil” and the low-budget thriller “Phone Booth” opposite Kiefer Sutherland. Although Farrell’s performance in “The Recruit” is the most forgettable of the three, his varied performances are testament to his great bankability, even if he is an undercard to Cruise, Pacino or Affleck.

Truth be told, this is not just another caper. “The Recruit” is no “Mission: Impossible,” “Spanish Prisoner” or “Ocean’s Eleven.” In those films, whose spirit “The Recruit’s” production team may have aspired to capture, the acting was decidedly sub-par, but forgivable next to the plot. While “The Recruit’s” plot is not worth the price of admission-except maybe an early-bird matinee-the acting makes this film engaging and entertaining.

There aren’t any long, drawn-out espionage sequences, but while watching, I didn’t really want to see any. Instead, I was waiting each time for Pacino to come back onscreen, to hear his trademark delivery of admittedly empty lines. It is not, however, a tour-de-force performance, either from Pacino or Farrell, but a worthy and well-deserved break, both for the viewers and the actors, from “Insomnia” and “Phone Booth.”