Published on July 25th, 2003 | by Ed Colley0
Agent Cody Banks
Cast: Frankie Muniz, Hilary Duff, Angie Harmon, Keith David, Cynthia Stevenson, Arnold Vosloo, Ian McShane, Martin Donovan
Agent Cody Banks might be able to kill you with his two fingers, but he and his film has got a bit of growing up to do before they can start messing with the action adventure big boys.
Agent Cody Banks stars the young Frankie Muniz (Malcolm from the superb television comedy Malcolm in the Middle) as Cody Banks, a seemingly normal, everyday American boy, who just happens to be enrolled in the CIA’s Agent Development Programme. This programme takes young people who display particular skills and trains them in the art of espionage, but with the understanding that they still have to clean their room and take out the trash at the end of the day.
So, if you hadn’t guessed it from the title, Agent Cody Banks is wish fulfilment for 8-12 year olds who would like nothing better than to become a supercool spy. As such, the film doesn’t really have to try all that hard – it just needs to show Cody Banks driving cool cars (check), beating up bad people (check) having neat little gadgets (check) and generally save the world (check). For the young males in the audience’s who are enjoying their first forays into a burgeoning adolescent sexuality, they also have the delightful spectacle of a buxom female spy (Angie Harmon) whose job it is to mentor Cody and fit into the most ridiculous leather outfits, as well as a nubile young blonde Hilary Duff, who is the main focus of Cody’s assignment.
Plot-wise, Agent Cody Banks is ostensibly some gubbins about nanobots, invented by a kindly, geeky professor (Martin Donovan) to save the world from oil spills, but which fall into the hands of an evil doctor (Ian McShane) who wants to use these miniscule machines to wreak havoc on an unsuspecting world. As the professor has a daughter (Duff), and as all previous CIA agent plants have been uncovered, Cody is assigned to get close to said daughter and find out exactly what’s going on. The problem is – and here’s the irony – Cody might be like a young James Bond but he doesn’t know how to talk to girls, especially a girl as gorgeous as the jail-bait friendly Miss Duff.
And so the film lumbers to its inevitable conclusion, posing the usual cliffhangers along the way – will Cody get his chance to be a real spy, will he kick everyone’s ass and will he eventually learn how to talk to a girl without vomiting into his hand?
Agent Cody Banks isn’t a necessarily bad film, and it should be enjoyed by most young boys. The baddies are quite a laugh (Ian McShane looks like he’s just spent a year at the George Hamilton School of Acting – classes for one hour in the morning, the rest of the day in the solarium – and was far scarier as the mulleted Lovejoy than he is in this, whereas for some reason, the producers have decided to dress his henchman Arnold Vosloo as a cross between the Action Man baddie and Mr T’s still-in-the-closet foster brother). Muniz holds the film together nicely and does his usual affable nerd schtick, all raised eyebrows and jerky arm movements, and he is nerdy enough to be embraced by all the nerds who are bound to watch the film. However, although he throws a few kicks and punches here and there, his action scenes look like they’re inhabited mainly by adult stunt doubles.
And herein lies the main problem with Agent Cody Banks. The first half, when Cody gets all his gadgets, and can impress everyone at school with his crazy driving and kickboxing skills, works because it is grounded within in a context the audience is familiar with, and it’s great to see the seeming dweeb win out against detractors and bullies. However, when the film tries to up the stakes and gets all properly Bond and, well, adult, with high speed chases through the snow, fighting the villain in his secret lair, explosions and the like, you catch a glimpse of Cody’s white Primark Y fronts as opposed to Bond’s Yves Saint Laurent boxers and the lack or originality and budget becoming all too glaringly obvious.
And as well as being very politically dodgy (in this world, the CIA is a group of friendly science types headed up by the amusingly grumpy Keith David, not a shadowy organisation that carries out secret assassinations and topples governments) Agent Cody Banks also feels morally wrong. Cody Banks is a kid, and it’s a little too unsettling to see him in a role set firmly in the adult world of hideous death and unwarranted destruction. If he’d stayed in school, Cody might have been onto a winner, but he strays too far into territory already conquered by men and women much bigger than he.