"THE RECRUIT" is mostly great fun, particularly for the stud-vs.-silverback battles of will between Colin Farrell and Al Pacino, who play CIA greenhorn and recruiter, respectively.

But Roger Donaldson's mystery-thriller is also a casualty of dramatic overreaching. As with too many studio productions -- featuring the too-many-cooks assembly of movie stars, screenwriters, producers and a numbing infinity of second-guessing studio executives -- "The Recruit" goes too far. Milking the premise isn't enough. This movie has to one-up itself into a sort of curdled oblivion.

But within this overstuffed compound of plot twists, overwriting, smart lines, action sequences and great shots of our two handsome stars, there is a compelling, if throwaway, drama.

Computer whiz and shaving-challenged stud-boy James Clayton (Farrell) finds himself the recruiting target of Walter Burke, a goateed stranger who has been following him for a while.

"Everything is not what it seems," declares Walter in what will be the most repeated sentence in the movie.

In short order, James undergoes training at "The Farm," in which he joins other promising CIA trainees, such as sultry smarty-pants Layla (Bridget Moynahan), to compete for the ultimate position of James Bond.

The movie is most fun in this section. Trainees are forever being tested, fooled into thinking a sudden, fast-breaking situation is real. Then they're told it's just another test because everything is not what it -- you know.

Actually, everything is pretty much what we've seen before in "No Way Out." Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Once again, a talented greenhorn joins a powerful institution, falls in love with a woman who may or may not be trouble. There's talk of a mole. And there's a powerful master of ceremonies who knows everything and who may or may not be a good guy. (That goatee is a Hollywood giveaway.) As you know, everything is -- oh never mind.

The movie also affords us many enjoyable glimpses of Our Town. "Recruit" takes us to the usual monument places, but also such fascinating spots as below Key Bridge along the Potomac.

Of course, the usual cockamamie geography applies. Upon entering the Metro, for instance, we find ourselves in some other subway. There are different uniforms on the guards; there are blue-tiled walls and strange ticketing machines. Where are we, Detroit?

Donaldson, you may remember, did the same thing with "No Way Out," in which Kevin Costner's character runs into a "Washington subway" which ends up being the Baltimore underground.

But we digress. The fact is, you could do worse than sit and enjoy "The Recruit." I know you could. I've seen those movies.

THE RECRUIT (PG-13, 115 minutes) -- Contains violence, sexuality and obscenity. Area theaters.

James Clayton (Colin Farrell) learns the spy trade in the fun if overreaching "The Recruit."