Agent Cody Banks (2003)


Starring: Frankie Muniz, Hilary Duff, Angie Harmon
Harald Zwart

Rating: PG

Studio: MGM

Review Posted: 3.14.03

Spoilers: Minor


By Sara M. Fetters.


"Muniz Shines as Bond-ian Adventurer"


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.


And now 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 grounded first.


Agent Cody 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.


Cody seemingly 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.


That 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.


What Dr. 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.


Itís silly 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 work.


Whatís more, 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 David (Barbershop) 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.


So, while 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 adventure.


Rating: 2.5 out of 4




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