And as it is with overnight stardom, the offers started rolling in. There were the film’s two sequels, released in 2020 and 2021, TV roles and rom-coms — but recreating the critical and audience success of “To All the Boys” proved difficult. Netflix’s own “Sierra Burgess Is a Loser” paired him with “Stranger Things” fan favorite Shannon Pursuer in a modern-day Cyrano criticized for catfishing, and the 2019 “Charlie’s Angels” reboot — well, this article may have just reminded you it exists. “Black Adam,” in which Centineo had a supporting role, is synonymous with 2022 box office disappointment, and on December 16, Centineo starred in Netflix’s “The Recruit,” an eight-episode series that successfully dulls his charm to dust.
Centineo plays Owen, a lawyer who starts working for the CIA, outwardly rattled by espionage but not-so-secretly loving the thrill of his new job. It is extremely rote, an international spy thriller (where were the thrills?) all but written by AI. Centineo’s star-making charisma, while welcome, feels out-of-step with the show’s tone, which fluctuates between irreverent and painfully self-serious. He has to say lines like, “I thought that I could help you. I thought that if I helped you then you could change, but you can’t change.” In short, he is better than this, than a lot of what he’s been attached to — so why doesn’t Hollywood know what to do with him?
The least that can be said is Centineo seems to be constantly working, which any actor will agree is better than scrambling between jobs. But in a time when movie stars are allegedly going extinct, his filmography suggests that it isn’t talent that’s lacking, but the kind of star vehicles that actually know how to utilize their captivating headliners. “The Recruit” misuses everyone from Centineo to Colton Dunn to a truly jarring finale cameo, with stilted action and laborious dialogue. Owen gets multiple lovers and an ostensible love interest, but chemistry between actors appears to have been not only discouraged but actively punished. The romance is not romantic, the sex is not sexy, and the x-factor that makes Centineo right for the role is all but stamped out.
Perhaps Centineo wants to distance himself from romance but action has not been kind to him. It may be that big franchises are hesitant to cast someone best known for a young adult novel adaptation, but that kind of narrow-mindedness — while entirely normal in Hollywood — feels foolish. Centineo, who has been nominated for multiple Teen Choice Awards, speaks to a coveted young audience demographic. His rom-com magnetism could actually infuse otherwise tepid stories with necessary sex and romance, and his puppy dog persona is begging for comedy pairing with a by-the-book serious protagonist, or at least to being cast as a young Mark Ruffalo.
Part of Centineo’s charm is that all his characters seem eager to prove themselves — a trait either shared or easily tapped into as an actor transitions from teen sensation to bona fide leading man. “The Recruit” tries but fails to harness this, while other projects have flat-out ignored it. Why Centineo hasn’t been in an adult Netflix romance is a “Glass Onion”-level mystery, its truth known only to the star, his team, and whoever sat in the rooms where his name was inevitably tossed out and eventually — well, tossed out. A holiday movie or similar rom-com seems like the logical evolution from “To All the Boys,” or something that catches that Peter Kavinsky mischief. Surely there is a bedroom scene worthy of Centineo that doesn’t involve him sleeping with an intelligence asset or subsequently role-playing a cable news anchor, both of which happen on “The Recruit” (though the latter would make a solid “SNL” sketch and he makes what he can of it with co-star Kaylah Zander).
The other option is to 180 away from rom-coms in a different direction. Until recently, actor Jake Lacy’s name was synonymous with playing capital N Nice Guys, but it was a diverse repertoire of ensembles, indies, blockbusters, fan favorites, and awards darlings. Finding a “White Lotus” or “Friend of the Family” role to turn that image on its head is easier said than done, but at the very least maybe Centineo needs a break from de-facto protagonist.
“Black Adam” arguably did this, and the film’s failure wasn’t exactly caused by an inability to give Atom Smasher his due. Centineo is obviously inclined toward action, but in a saturated superhero market. James Gunn’s move to DC is the studio’s strongest bet right now, while the Marvel slate is planned ostensibly up to the next decade — but all of these franchises (and Star Wars) expanding to TV provides an opportunity for more actors to join the roster, regardless of prior roles, tendencies, or preferences.
“The Recruit” garnered squarely average reviews (exactly 75% on Rotten Tomatoes at press time, though The Hollywood Reporter’s Angie Han called it “a piece of content so forgettable, the CIA wouldn’t have to lift a finger to disappear it from public memory”). It was the top TV show on Netflix in its debut weekend, but this is frequently the case with shows otherwise panned by critics and then never heard from again. The streaming machine allows shows like these to find massive, global audiences, only for those viewers to move on three days later and not look back until future seasons (“The Recruit” ends on a cliffhanger) — at which point the cycle repeats itself. It’s a lot of hard work for a questionable payoff, and Centineo deserves better. He deserves a project that will stay with viewers long after they finish it, propelling him into the kind of stardom for which he was made.
“The Recruit” is now streaming on Netflix.