Spies With Attitude
What would they do for inspiration in Hollywood without the dear old C.I.A.? A few zealous liberals from the ACLU might like to weigh in on this subject, but the makers of bad movies would be lost without a compass. Movie spies have been doing Superman stunts for decades in plots nobody can remember, and there’s no end in sight. A whole new batch of C.I.A. operatives has now hit the ground running in Roger Donaldson’s The Recruit , a big, noisy and relentlessly stupid movie about American secret intelligence that could only be conjured up by the overactive imagination of a director from Australia.
According to See No Evil , a fascinating new book by Robert Baer, one of the agency’s best Seeing Eye dogs, real C.I.A.
operatives in the intrigues of post-9/11 espionage sport the anonymous look of market analysts and public accountants. The wannabe James Bonds in The Recruit are a randier lot from the fantasy world of Chuck Barris: The women are alluring, tough, inhuman, immoral and scarier than cobras, and the men are reckless, cruel killing machines who wear Armani suits, drive sports cars and never shave. In reality, they’d all be spotted, ID’d and iced 10 minutes after their arrival in downtown Baghdad. But then there’d be nothing for Al Pacino and Colin Farrell to play-and play-acting is what they do to the hilt in The Recruit . So check your credulity quotient at the door, suit up for danger and let the cat-and-mouse games begin. This movie is as forgettable as last night’s dim-sum takeout, so enjoy it for the 105-minute escape from the cold that it is. Nothing more.
Mr. Pacino, whose movie career is on hiatus, appears once more in the kind of role he could exchange with Robert De Niro without the audience ever knowing the difference. With the kind of sullen, bug-eyed somnambulism both actors have become famous for, he plays C.I.A. recruiter Walter Burke the way Richard Boone used to play aging gunslingers-by rote. Mr. Farrell, the drunken, chain-smoking, foul-mouthed Irish sex symbol who’s become the current poster boy for movie-star anarchy, plays James Clayton, a Boston bartender whose computer skills and repressed, antisocial rage make him the perfect candidate for the agency’s war on terrorism. The movie takes you through the training program at “the Farm” in Langley, Va., where ambitious 007’s hone their skills at lying, deceiving, decoding secret messages, practicing dirty tricks and mastering clever blueprints for decimating Osama bin Laden and each other. Though Mr. Pacino, the deadly, dispassionate instructor, teaches him to trust nobody, Mr. Farrell makes the mistake of falling for a curvy classmate (Bridget Moynahan) who turns out to be an even bigger gearhead than he is. Vague notions of patriotism are introduced to little avail, then discarded as fast as the love scenes. For two newcomers whose press agents work overtime orchestrating magazine angles in a feeding market already overcrowded with bogus sex symbols, Mr. Farrell and Ms. Moynahan display a positively dismaying lack of chemistry. The unerotic bed scenes seem inserted as an afterthought, to show off Mr. Farrell’s tattoos. He’s photographed in so many punishing closeups you can see the follicles of his unshaven chin.
Things turn deadly when the recruits graduate and the real world begins. There’s a mole in the C.I.A. who may or may not be the girl he loves. Mr. Farrell’s job is to catch her and bring her down. From here on in, it’s all about security clearances, undercover surveillance, computers, microphones hidden in coat buttons and so much technical hugger-mugger you’d have to be a hacker to decipher it. Is bringing down Ms. Moynahan a test like all the others? Is she really a mole? If so, for whom? And who cares, anyway? Mr. Farrell’s job is to expose her as a traitor, which leads to unsolved riddles about national security and several anticlimactic chases through the alleys of Boston. Telling you what part Mr. Pacino plays in all of this pointless derring-do borders on a betrayal of my own. I will tell you that if you don’t know after the first 10 minutes, you are more naïve than his young recruits. I have a friend with such an infuriating talent for figuring out every twist and every angle in a film-and relating every ending aloud in a crowded cinema-that he has been forced to sit through every film alone, segregated from his pals under threat of death by popcorn-pelting. In The Recruit , you’ll have no problem predicting the true identity of the mole yourself. If you don’t see the ending coming an hour before the final shootout, you’ll be the only one in your seat asking “Huh?” If that happens, don’t feel queasy or foolish: Nothing else in The Recruit makes any sense either.
This is an ugly, cynical film-and throw pretty silly into the bargain. With operatives like these on the loose, no wonder everyone hates the C.I.A. Director Donaldson has no subtlety or style; he just hits you in the face without logic, using the camera as a fist. Mr. Pacino, looking like what I expect to see if they ever dig Jimmy Hoffa out of the cement, doesn’t even bother to hide the fact that he’s in it for the paycheck. There’s nothing wrong with Mr. Farrell that couldn’t be improved by a Bic razor and a bar of Ivory. He’s a raw, unpolished talent with dark, cloudy good looks whose unwholesome resemblance to a Bowery bum makes you wonder what kind of damage he’s doing to his co-stars in the kissing scenes. (Julianne Moore, in a recent interview, is the only glamour girl I’ve known to go on the record about the current vogue for hirsute hygiene. She says the love scenes with some of today’s stars are like rubbing your face with sandpaper.) If Colin Farrell ever gives up acting, he could rent out his chin to scrub the grease off the grills on outdoor barbecues.
A Kangaroo With Kick
The No. 1 movie in America last week was 89 minutes of mindless trash called Kangaroo Jack . Has everyone in this country gone mad? Yes, and this abomination from the Hollywood crash-and-burn school run by no-talent producer Jerry Bruckheimer proves it. I couldn’t find a plot here with a gun to my head, but it has something to do with a white hairdresser, a black street hustler and a kangaroo named Jack. A reward is promised if you can tell them apart.
Jerry O’Connell and Anthony Anderson, two of the worst actors in history, are the two idiots sent to deliver $50,000 to a hit man in Australia. But the dough ends up in the pouch of a kangaroo that specializes in karate kicks. This mean-spirited marsupial hops into the Outback with the two goons in hot pursuit, battling sandstorms, an army of red ants, farting camels and a voluptuous lady conservationist from the Anna Nicole Smith school of acting, who strips for action in a swim scene stolen from The Blue Lagoon . It’s 89 minutes of pure agony without a laugh in sight. Kids seem to like the kangaroo in the misleading newspaper ads, but it rarely appears. Talk about false advertising. Kangaroo Jack guarantees the loss of IQ points in adults-and with sex jokes, racial slurs and too much talk about testicles, it’s not for children, either. I’ve had more laughs and bigger thrills in a petting zoo. Best bet for destroying Saddam Hussein? Forget about war. Just send him Kangaroo Jack .
Thank You, Al
Al Hirschfeld’s funeral was like a clubby reunion of Who’s Who in the American Theater . It wasn’t sad or maudlin or depressing; it was a celebration. This is as it should be, for the legendary Al was a one-man institution who made New York special. He looked like Santa Claus and played the part. For more years than I have been alive on this earth, his Sunday pen-and-ink magic (nobody would ever call him a mere caricaturist; his work hangs on the walls of museums!) brought life to the front page of the Sunday Arts and Leisure section in The New York Times . Millions of people throughout the world woke up with Al, searching for his trademark hidden Ninas in Barbra Streisand’s hair and Marlon Brando’s armpits. There was life in his artistry -but more important, there was artistry in his life. I have never known a happier man.
Nobody loved a good yarn better than Al, and since he’d met and drawn everybody from Al Jolson to the Marx Brothers (and remembered juicy stories about them all), he often regaled dinner guests by telling a few yarns of his own. The ones about Ethel Merman were unprintable.
He knew everybody. At the dinners he and his gracious, lovable wife (and shapely right arm) Louise gave in their townhouse on 95th Street, you never knew who would show up. Check your coat with the maid, climb the stairs to the drawing room and you could find yourself schmoozing with Gloria Vanderbilt, Walter Cronkite, Carol Channing and Jack Paar. A lover of all things Japanese, he sometimes greeted you in a kimono. If you were lucky, Al would draw you for posterity. (I treasure the one of me in bed with Raquel Welch, with an impervious Mae West glowering over the bedpost. Thank you, Al, but I never looked that good.) On the fourth floor, in a plant-filled aerie guarded by two imperiously territorial cats who were his stiffest critics, he created masterpieces in an ancient barbershop chair. Sometimes he’d forget his own sketches and find them, years later, in a drawer with uncashed checks from people who had been dead for a decade. Before he died in his sleep at 99, he was still barreling down Broadway in his Lincoln Continental, and no curtain ever rose on opening night until Al was in his seat (third row on the aisle), even if he forgot the tickets in the pockets of his overalls. (Nobody ever asked Al Hirschfeld for tickets.) He loved The New York Observer so much that sometimes he picked up an extra copy, fearing his subscription might get lost in the mail. My favorite story is the one about his marriage to his beloved second wife, Dolly. They were on the way to their wedding when Dolly casually asked if he had remembered to divorce his first wife. They stopped at a gas station, he used a pay phone, and the first Mrs. Hirschfeld said no, Al had never bothered to sign the papers. They had to go back home, but what the hey. No backing out now; Dolly already had the ring.
The lights on Broadway dimmed last week for Al, but they’ll soon brighten up again. On June 23, two days after his 100th birthday, the old Martin Beck on West 45th Street will be renamed the Al Hirschfeld Theatre. Despite the awards and honors and books and tributes honoring his life and work, despite the Susan Dryfoos documentary The Line King that took so long to finish he called it the Dead Sea Scrolls , Al-shy and humble to the end-dreaded the fanfare of that forthcoming night. “Everyone will be there,” I used to kid him, and every time he’d grumble, “I wish I didn’t have to go.” But he’ll be there, all right. You better believe he’ll be there. Al was never one to miss a good party.