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Agent Cody Banks

Frankie Muniz watches "Malcolm in the Middle" jump the shark.

© 2003, MGM
All Rights Reserved

You can try this at home: Pick up a dime, and throw it in any direction. I guarantee you'll hit a James Bond parody with your toss. "Agent Cody Banks" (IMDb listing) joins a long and exhaustive list of films that want to siphon Bond's box office and cultural glory, but can't be bothered to approach the undertaking with the kind of respect it deserves. Coming off nonsense like "XXX," the idea of a teen Bond might not seem worthy of attention. But therein lies the rub: This movie actually works.

When a scientist (Martin Donovan, "Insomnia") invents a formula that spawns microscopic robots who can eat through anything, an evil mastermind (Ian McShane, "Sexy Beast") wants control over this invention to gobble through defense systems, leaving the United States open for assault. The CIA (including Keith David, Darrell Hammond, and Angie Harmon) needs an operative to get in tight with the scientist, so they call on special agent Cody Banks (Frankie Muniz, TV's "Malcolm In The Middle") to form a bond with the scientist's daughter, Natalie (Hilary Duff, TV's "Lizzie McGuire"). An average 15-year-old boy who was trained in the deadly arts at CIA summer camp, Banks uses his skills to help take down the criminal kingpin, falling in love with Natalie along the way.

"Agent Cody Banks" is a film made for teenagers. It traffics in the thinking that parents are lame, gadgets are cool and cleavage is the height of PG sexiness. The picture never steps outside of these bounds, which is refreshing (though the film does work in a fart joke). But even better is that, while the film is a strict James Bond rip-off (think of it as "James Bond Jr."), it's more homage than parody. There is little winking at the camera, and nobody mocks (or even brings up) Bond. The film comes from MGM Studios, domestic home to the Bond series, so maybe they were afraid to take shots. This is nice, considering the thrashing the franchise takes weekly ("Austin Powers," "XXX," the upcoming Rowan Atkinson spoof "Johnny English"). While I roll my eyes at the basic concept behind the film, I'm grateful they didn't feel the need to turn this into a rip-roaring, self-referential fiesta.

Directed by Harold Zwart ("One Night At McCool's"), "Cody Banks" comes straight behind Robert Rodriguez's "Spy Kids," which covers pretty much the same ground. Where the two films separate is in their approaches: "Spy Kids" is a more inventive espionage tale that uses wild imagination to bring it to life. "Banks" is much more grounded in typical action set-pieces and Bondian lore (evil henchmen, elaborate lairs and a kooky gadget expert). I don't fault the film for it, as the action is restrained, using more adventure than pyro. That is, until the climax, when all the explosions a 10-year-old could possibly gawk at come into the show all at once. Because "Banks" is aimed at such a young audience, it's fun, relatively irony-free entertainment. If the film isn't terribly well put together by Zwart, at least he puts a cap on the excessive instincts that typically come into play.

Frankie Muniz leads the cast as Cody, and his performance is more assured than his disastrous lead debut in last year's inexcusable "Big Fat Liar." Muniz isn't a terribly nuanced performer, but he's decent here as both the butt-kicking CIA agent and the everyday teenager who can't bring any game in his dealings with women. He is backed by a nice turn from Angie Harmon as his mentor, who puts the "see" in CIA very well, parading around in outfits that would make James Bond do a double take. This role initially seems below Harmon, who is coming off years of work on "Law & Order." But she settles into the spirit of the film, and becomes just as valuable to the success of the picture as Muniz.

I understand that "Agent Cody Banks" has the aura of drop-your-kids-off-at-the-mall entertainment, but it's a much better film for those in the mood for fun. I guess if you must steal from James Bond, this is a good example of how you can do it respectfully.

Filmfodder Grade: B

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