Rated PG - Running Time: 1:42 - Released 3/14/03

Agent Cody Banks is the latest fluffy and thoroughly inconsequential star vehicle for up-and-coming teenage actor Frankie Muniz, whose part in the phenomenally intelligent TV sitcom Malcolm In The Middle has launched him into the stratosphere of adolescent idolism and afforded him the opportunity to enhance good movies like My Dog Skip and at least partially redeem stupid ones like Big Fat Liar. Muniz’s success at playing a clever, genial, self-effacing everykid (the only part he’s ever asked to play) is not so much attributable to any amazing acting technique as to his ability to always look interested in what he’s doing, no matter how questionable the material. Perhaps someday he’ll receive a truly challenging part in a real movie, but for now he’s back doing what he does best, delivering affable smiles and good-natured dialogue as an intelligent teenager surrounded by moronic adults. Helmed by Norwegian director Harald Zwart (One Night At McCool’s), Agent Cody Banks is an innocuous teen James Bond movie along the lines of Spy Kids, but not nearly as inventive or inspired. It presents passable entertainment for most anyone under 12—but that’s about it.

The script for this movie is credited to a pair of two-person writing teams: Ashley Miller and Zack Stentz (their feature film debut after collaborating on several episodes of TV’s Andromeda) and Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, whose previous projects have included such diverse films as Ed Wood, Screwed, Man On The Moon, and Problem Child. In their story, Cody Banks (Muniz) is a regular kid from Seattle who is forced to conceal from his rather dim-witted parents (Daniel Roebuck, Cynthia Stevenson) and kid brother (Connor Widdows) that he is actually an agent working for the CIA. After a fun action scene where he saves a baby who’s trapped in a runaway car, Cody gets his assignment. It seems that an evil mastermind named Brinkman (Ian McShane) has acquired a new form of technology called nanobots, which are tiny robots designed by good-natured inventor Dr. Connors (Martin Donovan) to devour certain materials, like oil spilled in the ocean, while leaving other things intact. Of course, Connors intends them only for good purposes, but being a well-trained evil mastermind, Brinkman wants to use them to take over the world. In order for the CIA to stop him, Cody must become friends with Dr. Connors’s teenage daughter Natalie (Hilary Duff), an extremely popular hottie who doesn’t know he exists. The trouble is, while Cody is cool, intelligent, and fully capable of operating all of his Bond-style gadgets, he has a little problem concerning girls—he can’t talk to them without stuttering.

This movie is just another example of the disposable kids’ fare you see popping up at about this time every year. I mentioned Spy Kids, but this one really reminds me more of Clockstoppers, which was released last March. Though it has a few action-packed sequences featuring Muniz (or his stunt double) zooming around on jet-powered snowboards and one-man flying machines, it’s not big enough to contend as a summer blockbuster, so it’s relegated to a spring release when it will have the least competition and therefore the best chance of breaking even. Wow, what an admirable ambition. Muniz’s charm is certainly among the film’s strong points, but neither he nor grown-up hottie Angie Harmon (Law And Order), who plays his CIA “handler,” can overcome the script’s inadequacies enough to make it interesting to anyone old enough to have secondary sex characteristics. **½

Copyright 2003 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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