Last year's kiddie secret-agent comedy "Agent Cody Banks" was a stupid movie that got by on clever charm. It starred Frankie Muniz (from "Malcolm in the Middle") as a junior-high James Bond who had to get over his fear of talking to girls in order to complete his mission and save the world from some contrived evil.
The picture got a enough mileage out of Muniz's amusing believability as a secret agent on training wheels and out of its tongue-in-cheek twists (to keep his parents in the dark, the CIA did his homework and housework while he was on assignment) to balance out a lot of slapdash screenwriting -- so all in all, it squeaked by as good family fun.
But the rushed-into-production sequel "Agent Cody Banks 2: Destination London" is twice as stupid and without even an infinitesimal hint of the cleverness that kept the original afloat.
A year older, wiser and better trained, Cody is now supposed to be a brilliant operative, but the script is so bogus that he's not even smart enough keep an eye out for bad guys sneaking up on him. Undercover at an international music academy (insert stock footage of London tourist attractions here), he's been given a gadget-clarinet that plays itself -- but for the sake of building an obtuse plot point out of his performance anxiety, nobody bothers to tell Cody that little tidbit.
The movie is positively swimming in such lazy screenwriting gaffes, which comes as no surprise in a script by Don Rhymer, the mechanical, half-asleep sitcom hack behind "The Santa Clause 2" and "Big Momma's House."
Here's this guy's idea of clever butting-heads banter between Muniz and a perky mini-MI-5 agent played by Hannah Spearritt (a baby version of Baby Spice from flash-in-the-pan teen-pop group S Club 7):
She: "Tell me something I don't know."
He: "I guess that would be difficult."
She: "Oh, touché!"
In London, Banks is up against a hammy, hung-up-on-being-bald, rogue CIA spook (Keith Allen) and a stereotypically snooty English aristocrat (James Faulkner) who have perfected a mind-control microchip and plan to implant several of them (don't bother asking how) into the molars of world leaders at a summit meeting at Buckingham Palace with ridiculously low security. Nobody needs an invite to get in, apparently -- just a tuxedo.
Director Kevin Allen ("The Big Tease") displays an apathetic contempt for his audience, assuming kids won't notice the endless parade of lazy and lame machinations as long as they get a gratuitous fart joke from time to time, and that parents will soldier through with their lowered expectations.
But "it's just a kids' movie" is no excuse for such an insipid and cursory effort. It's no excuse for "yeah, right!" moments that a 6-year-old could spot, as when the bad guy calls attention to himself by firing a bazooka at Cody in public. It's no excuse for Cody not being smart enough to stay safely on a school bus when the bad guy spots him at the beginning of that scene.
It's no excuse for the half-hearted kung-fu "fight" scenes that follow, which look as if they were choreographed by a dance teacher at a retirement home and which feature meaningless, asinine post-punch wisecracks like "Go and write that on your lunchbox!" (Huh?) And it's no excuse for the way the director leaves his actors adrift in the film's flotsam and jetsam of ineptitude, begetting aimlessness and ineffectuality from Muniz, rampant scenery-chewing from the bad guys and shameless clowning from Anthony Anderson ("Kangaroo Jack") as Cody's bumbling handler.
Clearly nobody involved with "Agent Cody Banks 2" cared if it was any good at all. They just cared about cranking it out before the first movie's shelf life expired.
Run time: 100 mins
In Theaters: Friday 12th March 2004
Box Office USA: $23.2M
Box Office Worldwide: $28.8M
Distributed by: MGM
Production compaines: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Contactmusic.com: 1.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 13%
Fresh: 12 Rotten: 82
IMDB: 4.4 / 10
Director: Kevin Allen