Agent Cody Banks
Grade: B-
Year: 2003
Director: Harald Zwart
Writer: Jeffrey Charles Jurgensen
Genre: Action
Rated: PG

"Agent Cody Banks" is an inane action flick where the hero gets all the weapons, gadgetries and of course the girl. It's got a brainless plot and one-dimensional characters, but am I not also describing movies like "James Bond" "Charlie's Angels" "Mission Impossible" and "XXX?" The only difference here is that this film is for geared for kids.

Cody Banks (Frankie Muniz) seems like your typical 15-year-old teenager. He goes to school where he has trouble talking to girls, gets picked on by bullies, and has to come home to a list of chores and an annoying younger brother. Yet secretly, Banks has been attending a summer camp sponsored by the CIA as part of a recruitment program designed to make kids secret-agents. After all, no grinning villain would ever suspect a kid to be working for the CIA.

Banks is called into service because no adult agent could successfully infiltrate the bad guys. In this case, they are two nameless villains (Ian McShane and "The Mummy's" Arnold Vosloo). They plan on taking over the world with the help of Dr. Connors (Martin Henderson), a scientist who has invented a device known as the nanobot, a microscopic robot that eats anything it touches. Dr. Connors had initially designed the bugs to be used to clean up oil spills, but of course the villains have other plans for them.

Agent Banks must get a hold of this technology by getting close to Dr. Connor's hot daughter, Natalie (Hilary Duff). If Banks can befriend her and get invited to her birthday party, then the CIA will get access to Connor's lair (which is hidden in a cave below the Connor residence).

Some big names make up the cast, including the hard-headed Keith David, the mission director and Cody's boss. He's got the typical hot temper that will pressure Banks into completing his mission. Before hiring Banks, he has seen many agents fail in previous attempts to capture the nanobot technology.

"Agent Cody Banks" is in many ways very similar to the "Bond" and "XXX" films. Before our agent can embark on his quest, he must be properly stocked by the token nerdy professor. In "Banks," it is Saturday Night Live's humorous Darrel Hammond, who also has the burden of teaching Banks about the human female. While Banks can flip-over cars and can take out a band of counteragents with fists and frying pans, he is immediately ill stricken when put face-to-face with a girl.

The movie was written by freshman writer Jeffrey Charles Jurgensen, and the screenplay was also written by four newcomers-- Zack Stentz, Ashley Miller, Scott Alexander, and Larry Karaszewski. The biggest name behind the camera is Seinfeld's Jason Alexander, the movie's executive producer.

The film is directed by Harald Zwart, and I wonder how much involvement he had in dealing with the movie's promotions. Young children won't notice it, but anyone older than Frankie Muniz will know shameful product placement when they see it. Like in all CIA action flicks, "Banks" is all about high-tech guns, cars and helicopters; yet what we see the most of is the not-so-advanced "Segway" scooter. It's the primary mode of transportation in the CIA office. Everyone from the security guard to the director has their own little Segway. The movie also strategically advertises "Warcraft III," Blizzard's new role playing game that will surely wet the appetites of many children in the audience. It would be interesting to know how much money the movie was paid to showcase Segway and computer games for kids.

Thrown in for the older spectators is agent Ronica Miles (Angie Harmon), whose introduction into at least two of the scenes is accompanied by Nelly's "So Hot in Here." She is Bank's trainer/partner/babysitter through most of the mission, and is eye candy for those too old to be drooling over Hilary Duff.

Unlike mature action movies, clichés have a place in "Agent Cody Banks." The school bullies are necessarily so Banks can use his martial arts on them to impress Natalie at her birthday party. I didn't mind them. But did we have to see bullies in "Daredevil?" Maybe I don't want to know the answer. I already mentioned the tough director, there is also the fumbling security guard who is always asleep at the desk. But what is hackneyed to a general audience is comedy to younger viewers. To them, the sinister laugh of the main villain is actually horrifying.

Kids will like all the action, and even older audiences will be entertained by many of the stunts, including one where Banks must race a moving car with trapped a child inside before it gets hit by the train just moments ahead. The special effects are decent, but then again this movie is has a 'kid's meal' budget compared to Bond's '#3 upsized value meal.' The youngsters will be convinced, and I had fun watching the computer generated explosions, implosions, and one face-melting after the unfortunate chum swallows a nanobot.

This movie does try to look like a younger vision of James Bond. The opening credits have a flashy metallic sequence going for it, and the music sounds very similar to the Bond theme song. Music composer John Powell also did original work for many previous films, including "Shrek" and "Antz."

In the end, the Bond references continue; so I hope I'm not spoiling the movie for you when I say that Banks defeats the villains and saves the world. But like Bond/XXX, it's not over until you get the girl. And as Banks gets another transmission informing him of another assignment, he is seducing his woman as the sun sets over the ocean. Only in my opinion, and this is just my opinion, he gets the wrong girl.

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© Copyright 2003. All rights reserved. Contact Editor: Scott Spicciati