Mark Reviews Movies


2 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Harald Zwart

Cast: Frankie Muniz, Hilary Duff, Angie Harmon, Keith David, Ian McShane, Arnold Vosloo, Cynthia Stevenson, Daniel Roebuck, Martin Donovan

MPAA Rating:  (for action violence, mild language and some sensual content)

Running Time: 1:42

Release Date: 3/14/03

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Review by Mark Dujsik

I've seen this movie before, haven't I? Actually, twice, right? I'm not suggesting that Agent Cody Banks and the two Spy Kids films are one in the same, but to be honest, when I've seen a movie done right—and twice for that matter—it is difficult to judge a fairly similar movie on its own merits. The three movies share a relatable premise, but the Spy Kids movies are, at their heart, about family. This movie is, at its heart, about one kid and his awkward teenage years. The Spy Kids movies have imagination; this one has reproduction and homage. I'm looking forward to the next Spy Kids adventure; I could hardly care less about what Cody Banks does while simultaneously trying to fill out college applications and save the world (although that would be a task worthy of the production of a sequel). However, on its own terms, Agent Cody Banks is a mildly entertaining piece of childish wish fulfillment that offers a few inventive and clever moments and a couple of scenes of relatively insightful adolescent angst, but for the rest of its running time, it's fairly typical and overly gadget-oriented spy business.

The CIA needs help on missions that their older agents cannot do, so under the concept of "get them while their young," the agency has enacted a recruitment center of junior agents under the guise of a summer camp. One of their graduates is Cody Banks (Frankie Muniz), a typical fifteen-year-old and one of their poster agents. The agency needs him to keep an eye on Natalie Connors (Hilary Duff), the daughter of Dr. Connors (Martin Donovan). Connors has been unknowingly involved with the evil organization known as ERIS (which is an acronym for… actually, the movie never says), and his work on nanobots, which can be programmed to destroy anything, is feared to be a potential threat. With the help of his CIA mentor Ronica Miles (an alluring Angie Harmon), Cody will infiltrate an exclusive prep school and attempt to get on Natalie's good side quickly enough to be invited to her big birthday bash (forgive the alliteration—I couldn't help myself), where he should be able to discover Dr. Connors' progress. There's just one problem: Cody is socially inept around girls.

The movie's opening chase sequence is possibly its best, but it is one of those scenes that will probably sound entirely silly in writing. Trust me, it works on screen. The scene involves a skateboard, a busy, inclined Seattle street, and an out of control car with a small child in it. The child climbs into the front seat, releases the emergency brake, and starts speeding down the hill though busy traffic and other obstacles. It's up to Cody to stop the car and save the child. Sounds silly, right? It actually works incredibly well, and it's a bit different than we've come to expect from spy movies. There are no gadgets implemented, and the success of the stunt depends on timing and stunt performances, not special effects. The movie abandons that route and goes along the more dependable, more obvious gadget way. The devices aren't too special, and considering how well the first action sequences works, I find myself wondering if the movie would have played better without them. It would have resulted, I assume, in more realistic (well, as real as possible considering), more exciting action scenes, and it would probably demand a more resourceful, more interesting hero.

That's not to say that Cody Banks doesn't make a good hero. I mean, it is fairly predictable to make the teenager awkward and shy and intelligent and unpopular, but it does make him more identifiable and sympathetic. Plus, Frankie Muniz gives him an awkward, shy, intelligent, unpopular charm (actually, scratch that last one). As a result of these two elements, a few scenes have the ring of truth to them. It's about the moment a kid sees a girl and falls instantly in love. It's about the way in which the little guy who's been trampled over through his adolescence wants the opportunity to show them all up, either by not caring what they have to say because there's something more important than that or by winning a fight with them if it comes to that. There's one scene in particular that stands out. In it, a group of people gets together and tries to tell Cody multiple perspectives on how to win a girl and other such birds-and-bees issues. Isn't that what it's like to be a teenager—to be assaulted by all these mixed messages and ideas coming at you from every direction?

In the end, though, Agent Cody Banks abandons such observations for more action. The movie ends in a somewhat disturbing climax. I sure hope all those workers found the nearest exit before the time on the obligatory digital readout ran out; I know some of them couldn't have, since they're most likely dead before that happens. That includes the main villain who gets his just desserts, but, boy, is it a gruesome demise. Maybe the inclusion of such a relatively violent finale says more about what some people think of today's kids than anything the movie could have.

Copyright © 2003 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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