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Agent Cody Banks

01/05/2003. Contributed by Frank Ochieng

Buy Agent Cody Banks in the USA - or Buy Agent Cody Banks in the UK

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So the likable Malcolm in the Middle pint-sized TV star Frankie Muniz is at it again on the big screen? This time, the movie handlers are trying to package him as a junior James Bond for the kiddie crowd.

Agent Cody Banks (2003) MGM Pictures
1 hr. 25 mins.
Starring: Frankie Muniz, Hilary Duff, Angie Harmon, Keith David, Cynthia Stevenson, Daniel Roebuck, Martin Donovan, Arnold Vosloo
Directed by: Harald Zwart
Rating: ** stars (out of 4 stars)

So the likable Malcolm in the Middle pint-sized TV star Frankie Muniz is at it again on the big screen? This time, the movie handlers are trying to package him as a junior James Bond for the kiddie crowd.

Well, if one is trying to blatantly rip off the vibrant Spy Kids movie franchise then what better way to do this feat than to feature the popular television tyke in a kid-coated action-comedy meant to capitalize on filmmaker Robert Rodriguez’s aforementioned quirky adolescent espionage actioner.

Agent Cody Banks movie review

In the middling gadget fantasy vehicle Agent Cody Banks, Muniz tries to charm his way through this disjointed and recycled training wheels spy session. Although director Harald Zwart (One Night at McCool’s) does fortify this intentionally cheesy high-tech showcase with a sledgehammer of energetic flair and silliness, his juiced-up narrative cannot overcome the inevitable comparisons to the far superior Spy Kids flicks.

Sure, it’s kind of fun to imagine an American teenaged version of Agent 007 running around to save the world while juggling schoolwork and domestic chores in the process.

But the gimmick simply plays itself out after a while thus depending on the distracting factors such as the movie’s sluggish pacing, the high-voltage knockoff Spy Kids enthusiasm, hokey and flat humor that accompanies the campy overwrought action sequences and the lackadaisical approach to invigorating this jolting display with a cheeky need to have its pimple-faced hero clumsily discovery his own growing pains amid his responsible role as an adventurous and diminutive danger man.

Muniz stars as the title character Cody Banks, a Seattle-based teen that’s part of the juvenile division of the CIA. Apparently for years this top-secret government agency has been shaping adolescent agents and preparing them for a national crisis.

Well, the time has come for Cody and his fellow acne-faced covert little rascals to spring into action in reference to serving their country accordingly. When the dastardly evil outfit ERIS pushes its agenda in an effort to abuse the usage of mini ominous robots by unleashing them on an unexpected society, the CIA immediately starts to put their young protégés to work. And thus Cody Banks is about to embark on his first exciting thrill venture.

Cody gets the go-ahead to keep a watchful eye on the pretty gal Natalie Connors (Hilary Duff, star of the Disney Channel’s program "Lizzie McGuire"). The perky and curvy Natalie happens to be the daughter of the scientist that invented the harmful army of robots, or nanocytes as they’re referred to in the movie.

So this assignment is a mixed bag of sorts; Cody develops an understandable crush on the knockout Natalie but by the same token is quite awkward around the females. The question remains: is the untested Cody up for the challenge of keeping his cool and maintaining his focus while on duty?

Whatever complications the undercover red-faced rookie experiences, his hot-looking adult CIA contact Ronica Miles (Angie Harmon) will see to it that he is geared in the right direction (hopefully, that is…).

Granted that Agent Cody Banks tries to have some off-the-wall frolic with its incessant techno-treat of outrageous gadgetry and overwrought special effects designed to help heighten the otherwise manufactured antics of this silly-minded and overactive roller coaster ride.

Whereas Rodriguez eased into the cheeky imagination of his appetizing sea saw Spy Kids flicks by incorporating the right mixture of over-the-top spontaneity and a charming erratic giddiness, Zwart and his screenwriters seem to strain themselves by trying to overwhelm the audience with a string of excitable yet pointless run-of-the-mill action sequences that go through the banal Bond-esque motions.

The pre-teen moviegoers may occasionally fill up on all the scattering images that are thrown their way on the screen but will soon tire of all the tossed-around and exaggerated foolishness that this spectacle drowns itself in with perverse pleasure.

True, Agent Cody Banks wants to be aimlessly playful as a grade-school spoof mocking the ubiquitous genre of spy cinema. However, the tacky tale of an unsure young man coming-of-age by virtue of missions that may be high-tech work for the feds one moment or homework for the school board the next moment feels rather lame and exhaustive in concept.

This is a formulaic fantasy that expects to appease its kiddie core and offer some sugary subversive commentary on the ridiculousness of our fascination with the omnipresent notion of bombastic mainstream action-adventure films posing as acceptable throwaway entertainment.

Muniz tries to keep the frenzied proceedings afloat but one doesn’t easily notice the exuberance or confidence he brings to this muddled-down material much like he demonstrated in last year’s forgettable farce Big Fat Liar. As Cody Banks, Muniz routinely portrays his tip toeing protagonist as the hapless hero looking for meaning within his topsy-turvy existence.

Still, the film never manages to have us sympathize or relate to Cody’s lack of reassurance or sense of curiosity. Instead, the movie is so busy thrusting its leading lad into hyper-cornball situations that we lose our divested interest in Cody as both a boy nervously coming into his own young manhood and that of an unlikely developing and capable crime stopper to boot.

The filmmakers were astute enough to have Muniz and Duff partake in this pouncing pinball of a movie due to their continued following on their respective television shows. As performers, the young stars may be hot property on the small screen but in this preposterous stunt-laden showing, they’re as cold as an open package of half-bitten salami sitting on the shelf in your refrigerator.

Unfortunately, Duff doesn’t contribute too much unless you count her effectiveness as the role of major hormonal eye candy for her randy contemporaries. The supporting cast doesn’t make much of an impression either.

When Harmon isn’t prancing around in revealing outfits while needlessly playing dress up then the film resorts to showing us Cody’s clueless mother (Cynthia Stevenson) or Natalie’s dorky father (Martin Donovan) as a way of passing the time.

The violent campy vibes and forced miscellaneous zaniness in this perfunctory pubescent picture just doesn’t have the passionate push to elevate this empty carnival of kid-empowerment sentiments beyond its mediocre mode.

Agent Cody Banks desperately needs to get assigned a new intriguing gig — maybe the skateboarding operative can go incognito and sneak onto the set of Spy Kids III to properly observe how whisking audiences of all ages away in pure escapism is really done!

Frank rates this film: ** stars (out of 4 stars)

Frank Ochieng

(c) Frank Ochieng 2003

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