August 7, 2003 -- Agent Cody Banks is an enjoyable kid spy spoof. The story is along the lines of “Spy Kids,” but it is aimed at a slightly older audience (the two stars, Frankie Muniz and Hilary Duff are both 16). While the movie may not be sophisticated enough for older teen audiences, it seems okay for kids, “tweens” and those who are young at heart.
Muniz (“Big Fat Liar”) plays Cody Banks, a high school kid who is secretly a junior CIA agent. Even his parents are unaware of his secret identity. It seems he was recruited out of school and trained at a sort of spy summer camp. For all of his knowledge of spy stuff and his combat training, he is still considered a dork at school. Every time he tries to ask a girl out on a date, he gets a bad case of the jitters.
Ironically, he is selected for a secret mission for which he is particularly ill-suited. He must make friends with a beautiful girl, Natalie Connors (played by Duff, of “The Lizzie McGuire Movie”), who is the daughter of the world's foremost researcher on nanotechnology (played by Martin Donovan). Dr. Conners is being pressured by an evil syndicate to produce nanobots that can be used to surreptitiously attack the guidance systems of nuclear weapons.
The movie has the usual high-tech spy gadgets and a daring rescue, but the plot is actually character-driven. Most of the film's charm lies in Banks' awkwardness around girls, and his clumsy attempts to show Natalie that he is not the clueless dork he seems to be. This caterpillar to butterfly transformation is at the heart of the film. There are some funny bits as various experts at the CIA try to help Banks with his people skills. Most of these so-called experts are as clueless as Banks himself. Among the experts is “Saturday Night Live” regular Darrell Hammond. Banks' main CIA handler is Ronica Miles (played by Angie Harmon, AKA Angie Sehorn of the “Law and Order” TV show). Miles dresses in very revealing costumes in almost every scene she is in, a sort of tribute to the “Bond girls” of the James Bond movies. She also provides sex appeal for the older members of the film's male audience. In contrast to the way she is dressed, Harmon plays the character straight. She acts like a surrogate mother to Banks. Another familiar character is bad guy Molay (played by Arnold Vosloo of “The Mummy” movies).
While most of the characters are thin, there is enough depth to Banks and Miles to make it worth following them through the plot, which becomes nonsensical in the last act. It is a formula spy spoof with likeable characters. Muniz is an especially likeable actor. Even though Banks proves to be tough and resourceful to be a spy, he still manages to exude plenty of vulnerability so that you still pull for him to triumph. There is enough comedy and romance to make for an enjoyable story. This is very much like a Disney family movie (except for the revealing costumes), but it is not a Disney movie. One of the film's producers, Dylan Sellers, however, was formerly with Disney subsidiary Touchstone Pictures. Maybe that is where the Disney overtones come from. Like a Disney movie it is basically harmless fluff, but good-natured fluff with positive values. This film rates a B.
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