James Bond, puberty-style
The talented Frankie Muniz of TV’s Malcolm in the Middle fails yet again in his bid for big-screen stardom with Agent Cody Banks, a sad Spy Kids/James Bond hybrid that is lacking in stylistic charm and a sense of humor. After last year’s pitiful Big Fat Liar, Muniz desperately needed something with a little more zip than this vapid kid’s stuff.
The film offers an intriguing premise: The CIA is secretly training kids at summer camps to be super agents, unbeknownst to the children’s parents. The kids walk around with their little secret, something I would consider potentially harmful to their young psyches, until their country needs them. When called upon, they spring into action like miniature 007s, saving the world while surrounded by women with big breasts.
Yes, this is a kid’s movie, but there are plenty of cleavage shots provided by Angie Harmon as a CIA agent assigned to the young Cody (Muniz). Harmon’s wardrobe will surely provide enough reason for 12- to 15-year-olds to sneak into this one for a peek. Disney Channel sexpot Hilary Duff also appears as Natalie, Cody’s love interest and the focus of his somewhat confusing mission.
Cody’s initial mission is to survey Natalie at a private school, with instructions to make friends with her and perhaps ask her out on dates. The running gag of the film is that Cody, while a super elite agent type, has not been schooled in the ways of women, so he stutters and stammers in her presence. He gets the chance to kick some school bully ass, CIA-style, while Natalie watches. His expertise becomes a teenybopper aphrodisiac, and he eventually gets a kiss … right on the lips!
A super scientist, Natalie’s dad, has created microscopic robots that are a sort of Terminator-termite, eating surfaces they are programmed to destroy. Bad guys covet them, but it struck me that villains could just pour acid on whatever surface they wanted to damage. It would be less expensive, scientists need not be involved, and it would have a much more mischievous ring to it.
An evil egomaniac (Ian McShane, who once played Judas Iscariot in Jesus of Nazareth) wants the technology so he can promote the destruction of worldwide expensive things. He kidnaps Natalie for reasons that don’t really matter, and Cody sets out to save the day.
The movie boasts some fun potential in its opening sequence, which features Agent Cody springing into action on his skateboard, rescuing a toddler in a runaway car. The subsequent plot where Cody must semi-stalk and eventually rescue Natalie is a yawner. There are some interesting gadgets, including a jet pack contraption and a 3D Palm Pilot thingy, but nothing that screams originality.
Director Harald Zwat has put together a film that looks like it was shot on the cheap, but surely cost a whole lotta money. The usually funny Keith David is on hand as a CIA chief, and his scenery-chewing is shameless.
Muniz is in the throes of awkward, skin-ravaging puberty and, God love him, he’s not hiding out Haley Joel Osment/Macaulay Culkin-style. He’s already displayed above average comic timing and talent on Malcolm, and the truth is, he’s far too mature for this childish romp. I’m not saying he’s ready for a Tarantino film, but he’s definitely talented enough for more intellectual fare.
Robert Rodriguez is hard at work on Spy Kids 3-D, a film that promises better action and visuals, three-dimensional effects and Sylvester Stallone as a bad guy. Muniz would’ve done better to cameo in that far superior franchise, because the one he currently anchors is a major stiff.