What the world
needs now is another James Bond. Hollywood certainly thinks so.
Just last year we saw two semi-serious takes on the world of
super cool espionage (The
Bourne Identity and xXx)
and two films so far away from serious they are probably sitting
somewhere off the North Atlantic wondering what happened (Austin
Powers in Goldmember and
Undercover Brother). Even kids have gotten into the act
what with Robert Rodriguez wonderful Spy
Kids films, and the venerable secret agent himself made
his most financially successful appearance yet with 2002ís
Die Another Day.
televisionís Malcolm in the Middle Frankie Muniz takes
his crack at the world of fast cars, supercilious villainy, cool
gadgetry and beautiful women. Heís 16-year old CIA agent Cody
Banks, and treat him like a nerd or make fun of his skateboard
heís liable to go kung fu on your behind. That is, if heís not
Banks is MGMís attempt to duplicate some of the success
Dimension and Disney have had with their relatively inexpensive
and highly profitable Spy Kids (a third is due out this
summer) trilogy. As such, itís not too bad. Sure thereís an
over-familiarity at this point in regards to secret agent
teenagers, but Muniz is such an affable presence I can honestly
say I was reasonably entertained much of the way.
has a quiet life living in Seattle. (As usual, Vancouver, B.C,
stands in for my hometown. For those that donít know one from
the other, letís just say Seattle doesnít have too many Canadian
supermarket chains.) He goes to school, puts up with an annoying
little brother, stopped trying to figure out his parents and
canít for the life of himself put five words together in a
sentence when talking to a cute girl. Heís your typical teen
down to the core, but thatís only on the surface.
You see, Cody
is also one of the CIAís team of elite junior secret agents.
Recruited with other children from around the country and
trained at a special summer camp for "gifted" children, heís
ready for action at any time, waiting for the proper orders so
he can carry out his first all-important assignment.
arrives one day after basketball practice in the leggy form of
one Ronica Miles (Law & Orderís Angie Harmon). Taking him
out of school and dropping him into an exclusive prep academy,
she orders him to get close to 15-year old student Natalie
Connors (Hilary Duff, Disneyís Lizzie McGuire). Natalie
is the daughter of the reclusive Dr. Connors (Martin Donovan,
The Opposite of Sex), a scientist working on groundbreaking
research in nano-technology.
Connors doesnít know is that the mysterious Brinkman (Ian
McShane, looking a lot like Dr. No from the first Bond
adventure) bankrolling the research plans to use his little
microscopic robots to cripple U.S. military and missile systems.
With the vicious Molay (Arnold Vosloo,
The Mummy Returns) by his side, Brinkman is on the verge
of world domination and the CIA canít let that happen.
Cody jumps all
over the chance to get involved in such an all-important
mission. Only problem; in spite of all his training heís still a
pubescent teenager, and talking to and making friends with the
beautiful and popular Natalie proves to beyond his reach. Soon,
the CIA is running a full-out clinic for the young agent on how
to woo women deep in their secret headquarters, the fate of the
world resting on whether or not Cody can get a date.
stuff, too be sure, but the screenplay is surprisingly deft
(especially considering it was officially penned by four
writers) and there are many clever Bond-isms littered
throughout. In fact, Rusty Smithís production design Ė no
stranger to Bond parody handling both of the last two Austin
Powers adventures Ė has all the scope and awe of Ken Adamís
revered You Only Live Twice sets, and John Powellís
assured score echoes fondly the glory of John Barryís early Bond
many in the cast seem to be having the times of their lives
playing the broad supporting characters, most notably Harmon and
Saturday Night Liveís Darrell Hammond. Harmonís a kick as
the strong-willed and highly acute secret agent forced to play
nursemaid to a teenager, while Hammond is an inspired choice to
play the CIAís version of Bondís gadget supplier Q.
Where does it
go wrong? Well, the usually wonderful character actor Keith
spends the movie barking more than he does anything else, and
Donovan, Vosloo and Cynthia Stevenson, as Codyís mother, are
severely wasted. Also, while director Zwart (One
Night at McCoolís)does an ok job handling the
filmís action set pieces heís far less self-assured during the
movieís quieter and comedic moments, refusing to let the
charming Muniz and Duff shine quite how they could.
Still, the pair
still shines pretty darn brightly. Never a fan of the Fox
television show Muniz stars in, I never realized how good an
actor he really is. Muniz steals the film and itís easy to see
why MGM is banking Agent Cody Banks so squarely upon his
young shoulders. But Duff makes a play for the limelight
herself, almost pilfering the film right from beneath the
suction-cupped sneakers of the pint-sized secret agent.
Yet, where the
Spy Kidsí adventures managed to forgo the graphic
violence and deafening explosions that usually accompany a
glitzy-cool spy film, Agent Cody Banks ends on such a
drastically dangerous note that it tempered much of the fun.
While I donít mind James Bond when he flexes his license to
kill, Iím really not sure I want the children of the world
watching a kid barely old enough to drive do the same. Itís
excessive, and I noticed more than a few parents silently squirm
in their seats as their children took it all in.
Iím giving a mild recommendation to Muniz and company, parents
should definitely take note. This is another example of a
ratings board increasingly out of touch with film-going reality,
and how Agent Cody Banks avoided a PG-13 I simply do not
understand. That said, the kids in the film are all around 12
and up. I canít think of a better barometer than that for
knowing the perfect age group suitable for agent Banksí debut