Agent Cody Banks (March 2/03)
It's impossible to talk about Agent Cody Banks without mentioning the Spy Kids series. Would this film even exist if it wasn't for the phenomenal success of those Robert Rodriguez movies? Probably not - but even if it did, that wouldn't change the fact that it's essentially a mediocre rehash of various spy flicks.
Frankie Muniz stars as the titular Cody Banks, a 15-year-old who just happens to be a member of the CIA. Recruited through a top-secret summer camp for the best and brightest, Banks' relatively normal existence (when we first see him, he's preventing a runaway car from smashing into an oncoming train) is interrupted when the CIA calls upon him for a special mission. He's to get close to the daughter of a prominent scientist who's working on nanotechnology for the film's James Bond-esque villain, Brinkman (Ian McShane).
Though the Spy Kids movies and Agent Cody Banks are quite similar in tone, the primary difference between the two is that the former has been crafted with more than just kids in mind - while the latter has not. There's a certain amount of glossy predictability present in Agent Cody Banks; the movie essentially plays like a really long trailer. As the Spy Kids series has proved, it is possible to create a film with lots of special effects and over-the-top stunt work without necessarily sacrificing the characters in the process. All the characters in Agent Cody Banks, from Banks himself right through to even the smallest supporting players, seem to exist only to further the storyline. Banks' brother, for example, is a walking cliche - saying things like "what-ever" and generally acting as though he'd be more at home in a commercial for Pops cereal. But, of course, when the screenplay requires him to help out Cody, the kid essentially becomes an entirely new person. The same can be said for the majority of the supporting characters - and even a few central figures. Angie Harmon, as Cody's CIA handler, is saddled with a particularly obvious story arc; she initially resents Cody because babysitting him isn't exactly what she hoped to be doing, but wouldn't you know it, she eventually comes to like and even respect the kid. Agent Cody Banks will never be mistaken for subtle entertainment for kids (or adults, for that matter).
Having said that, there are a few elements in the film that work. Among the actors, only Keith David as the Director of the CIA manages to make any kind of impact beyond the superficial. The relish and mad glee with which he approaches the role is absolutely perfect, and his continual harassment of a clueless minion named Rosychuk provides the film with its only laughs. The set design, from the sleek and shiny interior of the CIA to Brinkman's massive mountaintop lair (which bears a striking resemblance to the hideout of various Bond villains - though this was likely intentional), is quite impressive and often more interesting to look at than anything that's occurring on screen.
And as for Muniz, he's not terrible but there's virtually no spontaneity in his performance. Every move he makes and every line he utters seems completely prefabricated; we're never convinced that Cody is an autonomous character (instead of a pawn used to propel the busy plot forward). There's no denying that Muniz has charm to spare, but so do a lot of actors. Luckily, he's been surrounded by an impressive supporting cast - including Sexy Beast's Ian McShane and Hal Hartley regular Martin Donovan - which does offset his continuous mugging and grinning (somewhat).
Agent Cody Banks is just the sort of loud and silly movie that little kids seem to love - but it's too bad the filmmakers didn't bother including any elements to appeal to the rest of us.