Noah Centineo’s journey from a rom-com king to the lead in the Netflix spy thriller “The Recruit” is a bit of a bumpy ride.
Centineo, who starred in “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before,” is miscast here in a series that’s confused not only about its leading man, but about its genre.
“The Recruit” (now streaming) follows Owen Hendricks (Centineo), 24-year-old rookie lawyer who is only on Day 2 on his job working for the CIA when his life gets turned upside down.
He quickly becomes ensnared in intrigue, thanks to past agency asset Max Meladze (Laura Haddock), who’s imprisoned in Arizona and is threatening to reveal agency secrets unless she’s exonerated. (Owen conveniently stumbles on her letter when he’s tasked with sorting through mail, since that’s the boring busywork that new hires are given).
As Owen tries to deal with this situation, he becomes involved in car chases, gun battles and, eventually, torture.
The show’s plot is essentially, “hapless new guy bumbles his way through the CIA.” It’s hard to pin down tonally, since that sounds like a slapstick comedy, and it does have humorous moments. But it’s also serious about being an earnest thriller and seems to have some half-baked commentary about the CIA and the drudgery of bureaucracy.
Centineo, who, with his baby-faced visage, played a jock in “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before,” looks strange wearing a suit and strolling into an office and playing an “adult” role. In reality, he’s 26, so playing a 24-year old makes sense. Still, he plays the Owen with the same Golden-Retriever energy that he used to play a high school jock. It’s awkward that he hasn’t changed his style to adjust to an older character or a shift in genre. Watching him as an adult — even a one with plenty of Gen-Z signposts, including a heavy Instagram presence and goofy roommates — doesn’t feel quite believable.
The plot gets convoluted as Owen runs around from locations ranging from Yemen to Phoenix, but it moves at a brisk pace. There’s not a lot of coherence to why certain events are happening, with the car chases and guns seemingly added because they’re part of the spy-thriller scenario. “The Recruit” doesn’t place much value on logic.
Also baffling is how little training Owen receives. He doesn’t know the agency’s policy for traveling to other countries, which nearly gets him killed, and his co-workers speak in code: “Any more contact on that squeaky wheel?” But when Owen responds in a straightforward way, describing his current assignment, his boss scolds him for being too loose-lipped, even though he was never told how he should talk about his projects. It doesn’t feel remotely believable that somebody with so little training is being thrown into dangerous, highly sensitive situations.
That could work if the show leaned into being a full-on ridiculous comedy about an unqualified man tasked with dangerous jobs, such as “MacGruber.” But it doesn’t do that; it tries to have it both ways, equal parts spy thriller and zany romp, and it doesn’t quite succeed at either one.
“The Recruit,” has its fun moments, but as a whole, it’s a misfire. Centineo seems eager to graduate from high school roles without first putting in the work.
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