What kid hasn’t dreamed of being a super-cool secret agent? The excitment, the adventure, the gadgets — someone should make a movie about spy kids!
Unfortunately for “Agent Cody Banks,” someone already made a movie about spy kids, and it was called “Spy Kids.” They even made a second one, called “Spy Kids 2.” “Agent Cody Banks” is joining the game at a point when its derivative nature will be obvious to even the stupidest of children.
As rip-offs go, it is a fairly innocuous one, though I do think there are more references to Angie Harmon’s cleavage than a kid-friendly PG movie ought to have. Frankie Muniz (TV’s “Malcolm in the Middle”) plays Cody Banks, a typical teen who gets tongue-tied around girls and is having trouble with math, but who has secretly been trained by the CIA in matters of espionage. Even his parents don’t know about it; we catch a glimpse of it when he rescues a baby from a runaway car, subsequently disappearing into the crowd like an adolescent superhero.
Cody is called into action with a special assignment: Get close to Natalie Connors (Hilary Duff), whose scientist father (Martin Donovan) is making breakthroughs in nano-technology — “microscopic robots,” we are told, helpfully. In the wrong hands, this technology could endanger the world.
Under the tutelage of Bond girl-ish Ronica Miles (Harmon), who insists she is his handler and NOT his partner, Cody embarks on the dangerous mission of talking to Natalie and, even scarier, becoming her boyfriend. There is some comedy in this that will surely appeal to the film’s target audience, who are no doubt intimately and recently familiar with such trauma.
On “Malcolm in the Middle,” Muniz is the straight man amidst other, more colorful characters. Here, he is asked to carry a film — an action film, no less — and he simply doesn’t have the personality for it.
Speaking of things without personality, let’s talk about the screenplay, which is credited to four writers. It is like “Spy Kids,” but without the wit or imagination — or, obviously, the originality — of that film. It has a darkness that is never fully explored: Cody was recruited by the CIA because they tracked him reading spy magazines and surfing for gadgets on the Internet. He didn’t want the job; he sort of had it thrust upon him. But the reluctant hero theme is underused. Cody Banks, like the film he stars in, does nothing more than glide through the motions.
C+ (1 hr., 50 min.; )