Yes, "Agent Cody Banks" is a "Spy Kids" clone. As such, I went into it expecting an uncreative, cash-in-on-a-trend children's movie -- the kind parents are loathe to suffer through, yet for some reason take their kids to see anyway.
But while its plot doesn't stand up to even a modest amount of logical scrutiny, the flick has a comical, junior-James Bond spirit that's hard to resist. Of course, there are a couple differences between James Bond and highly-trained CIA spook Cody Banks (played by "Malcolm In the Middle's" Frankie Muniz): 1) Cody is 15 and lives with his parents who don't know he's a spy, and 2) Cody is hopelessly inept at talking to girls.
His tendency to get tongue-tied around cute classmates becomes a major problem when his hubba-hubba CIA handler (Angie Harmon from "Law & Order") assigns him to get close to the adorable Natalie Conners (Hilary Duff, better known as the Disney Channel's "Lizzie McGuire"). It seems the girl's scientist father is unknowingly developing nanobot technology for a villain (the ominously tan Ian McShane) who wants the microscopic 'bots to eat away US missile guidance systems. It's part of his evil plan to render the country defenseless for no adequately explored reason.
Enrolled in all Natalie's classes at her elite prep school ("Isn't that a little creepy?" Cody complains. "Creepy? This is the CIA. That's what we do," replies his boss), Cody bungles his introduction so badly that the girl asks him if he's in Special Ed. But after using his training to rescue her from a fall and showing off, Mario Andretti-style, during their Driver's Ed course, he eventually makes a good enough impression to get invited to Natalie's birthday party, which was the plan all along.
There he uncovers the villain's elaborate, largely nonsensical plan to distribute the nanobots into homes all over the country as ice cubes because "everybody uses ice cubes." How this gets the nanobots anywhere near missile silos is anybody's guess. But shrugging off the very sloppy plot's innumerable deficiencies isn't any more difficult here than in a good James Bond film, because "Agent Cody Banks" is in part an homage to the absurdity of Bond movies.
Cody is introduced to his gadgets (including real-life X-Ray specs and a BMW-designed Street Carver skateboard) by a Q-like character ("Saturday Night Live's" insufferably hammy Darrell Hammond). The bad guys belong to some wealthy, apparently worldwide organization of evil that goes by an acronym -- ERIS -- which is never explained. Their vast 1960s-designed mountain-cavern lair -- from which Cody must rescue Natalie after she's kidnapped -- looks like production designer Rusty Smith copied then candyized the sets from "You Only Live Twice." And a one-occupant whirlybird Harmon flies when coming to Cody's aid is just a high-tech update of the jet pack from "Thunderball."
But the three things that make the movie most enjoyable are its tongue-in-cheek sense of humor (the CIA does all Cody's chores and homework while he's on assignment), the fact that the cast is clearly having a great time, and that helmer Harald Zwart ("One Night at McCool's") directs in a way that invites the audience in on the fun.
Muniz is both convincing and funny as an agent on training wheels, and as a frustrated dweeb slowly gaining some sense of cool (no thanks to an amusingly inept crash-course in courting from CIA "experts"). Duff is irresistibly effervescent as the school sweetheart (this young actress is going places). And Arnold Vosloo, sporting only slightly more hair than as the title character in "The Mummy" remakes, takes comic delight in chewing scenery as McShane's henchman. "You messed up my haircut!" he barks at Cody, pointing to his crew-cut Mohawk during one of many slapsticky fight scenes.
The only actor who seems restricted from the fun is Martin Donovan ("The Opposite of Sex"), who plays Natalie's father, a character who simply doesn't fit in with the rest of the movie. He's tweed geek who inexplicably lives in an uber-stylish beach-cliff manse and who is never even seen talking to his daughter until the last reel -- a perfect example of the picture's sloppy storytelling.
If the film's four screenwriters had tried at all to fix this kind of nonsense, "Agent Cody Banks" could have been even better than the "Spy Kids" movies that motivated its copycat creation. As is, it's perfectly enjoyable. But it's a little frustrating that the filmmakers didn't aim any higher.
Run time: 102 mins
In Theaters: Friday 14th March 2003
Box Office USA: $47.3M
Box Office Worldwide: $58.8M
Distributed by: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM)
Production compaines: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Contactmusic.com: 2.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 39%
Fresh: 39 Rotten: 62
IMDB: 5.0 / 10
Director: Harald Zwart
Starring: Frankie Muniz as Cody Banks, Hilary Duff as Natalie Connors, Angie Harmon as Ronica Miles, Keith David as CIA Director, Cynthia Stevenson as Mrs. Banks, Noel Fisher as Fenster, Darrell Hammond as Earl
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