Agent Cody Banks
2003, PG, 110 min. Directed by Harald Zwart. Starring Frankie Muniz, Hilary Duff, Angie Harmon, Ian McShane, Keith David, Arnold Vosloo, Daniel Roebuck, Cynthia Stevenson.
REVIEWED By Marrit Ingman, Fri., March 14, 2003
Almost all Hollywood kids fare can be assessed with a single sentence: The youthful star is likable enough, the action is constant, the message is reasonably wholesome ("Just be yourself!"), and parents don’t have much else to pick from, anyway. A routine secret-agent yarn – James Bond by way of Spy Kids, right down to the obligatory roulette scene – this by-the-numbers starring vehicle for Malcolm in the Middle man Muniz is essentially no exception. There’s a swarthy supercriminal (McShane), a rumpled scientist (Martin Donovan, apparently held in front of the camera at gunpoint), a top-secret headquarters full of thrilling gizmos, a perky love interest (Duff, of Lizzie McGuire fame), and a quick-thinking hero ready to save the world from "nanobots." Mix in a flamboyant evil henchman (Vosloo) and the occasional hovercraft and supercar, and you’ve got a thriller-by-the-numbers, youth variant. The parents (Stevenson and Roebuck) are adorably clueless, the little brother (Connor Widdows) is bratty, the teachers are menacing (and one is an appalling racist caricature), and the usual gang of bullies pops up here and there. The film is so busy, thanks to its committee of four screenwriters, that I haven’t even gotten to Angie Harmon, who seems to enjoy capering in her bouffant wiglets and half-unzipped skintight catsuits – but what is Muniz’s underage nose doing in her cleavage in scene after scene? (My notes refer to her as "Agent Juggs.") Even Duff kicks ass in a skimpy tank top by film’s end. Now let’s consider the film’s plenitude of explosions and scenes of kung-fu fighting. The PG rating suggests all-ages viewing, but let’s not kid ourselves here. Cody Banks would probably be appropriate for the 13-and-older crowd, but it’s far too dopey for teenage sophisticates, even though it’s got "cool" stuff like Segway scooters and jet-powered snowboards and a holographic robo-babe. It’s easy to imagine the film’s army of producers (Madonna among them) confabbing over the product placement and the prominent mall-punk soundtrack. It’s harder to imagine youth-oriented filmmaking that manages to be lighthearted without pandering to its audience.
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