Noah Centineo woefully wrong in Netflix spy thriller ‘The Recruit’

Noah Centineo’s journey from rom-com king to starring in the Netflix spy thriller “The Recruit” is a bit bumpy.

Centineo, who starred in To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, is a miss here in a series that’s confused not just about its leading man, but about its kind.

“The Recruit” (streaming now) follows Owen Hendricks (Centineo), a 24-year-old rookie lawyer who is only on his second day on the job at the CIA when his life is turned upside down.

He soon becomes embroiled in intrigue, thanks to former agency asset Max Meladze (Laura Haddock), who is imprisoned in Arizona and threatening to reveal the agency’s secrets unless she is exonerated. (Owen easily stumbles across her letter when he’s assigned to sort through the mail, because that’s the boring chore that’s given to new employees.)

Noah Centineo as Owen Hendrix, Colton Dunn as Lester Kitchens, and Artie Mann as Violet Ebner in “The Recruiter.”
Vivel Stewart as Hannah Copeland, Noah Centineo as Owen Hendrix
Vivel Stewart as Hannah Copeland, Noah Centineo as Owen Hendrix in The Recruit.

As Owen tries to deal with this situation, he gets involved in car chases, gunfights, and eventually torture.

The show’s plot is basically, “An unlucky new guy works his way through the CIA.” It’s hard to define it tonally, because this feels like a slapstick comedy, and it has its humorous moments. But it’s also serious about being a serious movie and seems to have some half-baked comments about the CIA and the toil of bureaucracy.

Centineo, who played the jock in “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” with his petite facial appearance, looks weird as he dons a suit and wanders into an office playing “grown-up.” In fact, he’s 26 years old, so playing a 24-year-old makes sense. However, Owen plays with the same energy as a golden retriever that he used to play high school jock. It’s embarrassing that he hasn’t changed his style to adapt to an older character or genre shift. Watching him as an adult — even one with plenty of Gen-Z references, including a heavy Instagram presence and roommates — is completely unbelievable.

    Vivel Stewart as Hannah Copeland, Noah Centineo as Owen Hendrix
Vivel Stewart as Hannah Copeland, Noah Centineo as Owen Hendrix in The Recruit.
    Noah Centineo as Owen Hendricks
Noah Centineo as Owen Hendricks in “The Recruiter”.
Philip Buss/Netflix

The plot gets complicated as Owen runs from locations ranging from Yemen to Phoenix, but it moves at a brisk pace. There isn’t a lot of coherence as to why certain events occurred, as car chases and weapons seem to have been added as they are part of the espionage thriller scenario. The “recruiter” doesn’t place much value on logic.

Also baffling is the lack of training Owen receives. He doesn’t know the agency’s policy of traveling to other countries, which almost gets him killed, and his co-workers speak in code: “Is there more contact on that pesky wheel?” But when Owen responds in a direct manner, describing his current assignment, his boss berates him for being too loose, even though he is never told how he should talk about his projects. It is unbelievable that someone with so little training would be thrown into such dangerous and delicate situations.

That could work if the show bent down to being a full-blown silly comedy about a misfit man assigned dangerous jobs, like “MacGruber.” But she doesn’t. It tries to have it both ways, equal parts spy thriller and suspense, and it doesn’t quite work at either.

“The Recruit” has its fun moments, but on the whole it’s not a hit. Centineo seems eager to graduate from his high school roles without starting a career.

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