A durable Hollywood hack, Roger Donaldson chugs out a watchable, join-the-dots thriller in "The Recruit" - a picture which amiably passes time, without grabbing your attention.
He's James Clayton, a computer whizz who veteran spook Walter Burke (Al Pacino) taps for the CIA. "Would I have to kill anyone?" says Clayton. "Would you like to?" responds Burke, with that mischievous Pacino glint.
Clayton is soon a recruit at The Farm, the Central Intelligence Agency's training centre. Kids turn up clever and keen, and are spat out hardboiled and ruthless. "Our cause is just, our enemies everywhere," says Burke. Clayton isn't convinced - he just wants to discover more about his long-missing father, and score with fellow student Layla (Bridget Moynahan).
Set exercises by Burke, always under the gaze of CCTV, the residents of The Farm don't have an easy time of it. They are forever told that "nothing is as it seems" and "everything is a test". Even the battle of the sexes has a sinister subtext.
This is fun - sort of a full mental jacket, as Clayton learns how to kill, steal, and survive in a prep school for perfidy. Underlying it all is an inherent ridiculousness, but this only becomes a real problem in the final act, as a post-Farm Clayton goes on assignment at Langley, the CIA HQ.
Inveterate thriller watchers will pick the conclusion too easily, and there's limited pleasure in watching the daft, perfunctory plot work itself out. Still, there's Farrell's charisma to prop things up.
As a colleague comments on Clayton's espionage ability, so viewers could observe of the Irish star's acting: "You were born to do this."