No doubt about it, 2004's "Agent Cody Banks 2" is not only the kind of thing that gives sequels a bad name but gives kids' films a bad name, too.
The first "Agent Cody Banks" was a rather listless project that at least had a novel concept going for it; namely, that the CIA train children to do their undercover work. A network of kid spies hit the screen first in "Spy Kids" and then in "Agent Cody Banks" a couple of years later, so the idea for the first "Banks" was still fresh. By now, however, it's stale. And unimaginative writing, prosaic direction, and mediocre acting don't make it any better.
Frankie Muniz (TV's "Malcolm in the Middle") is back as teenager Cody Banks, now sixteen and about on the outer edge of being able to continue playing the role. I mean, for what age group is the movie intended? I figured the original movie was designed for youngsters too old for "Spy Kids" and not old enough for Bond. Maybe twelve or thirteen-year-old boys. But, as I say, Cody's sixteen in this sequel. Yet the movie still seems directed toward the twelve and thirteen-year-old crowd. The plot and characters are simplistic, and the jokes and action are juvenile. Fart jokes, pee gags, high-fives, and food fights are aimed squarely at a very young male audience.
"Trust equals death...Trust nobody, including me," says Cody's new CIA summer-camp director, Victor Diaz (Keith Allen). Kamp Woody is a cover for the CIA's covert, youth spy-training program, which not even the children's parents know about. Naturally, in this film as in every other lazily contrived kids' flick, adults are either evil and wicked or complete idiots. So when Cody's parents come to visit one summer day, the camp turns instantly from a training ground filled with combat vehicles, radar, rockets, satellite dishes, and assorted gizmos to a rustic retreat filled with cabins, teepees, and bonfires. The clueless parents are delighted.
The plot, what little there is, involves the theft of some mind-control software by a turncoat Diaz, who is trying to sell it to an agent in London, Duncan Kenworth (James Falkner), whose wife runs a school for musical prodigies. Diaz wants to plant a mind-control chip in the U.S. President's mouth, plus overthrow the CIA. Kenworth wants to replace St. Paul's Cathedral with a statue of himself. Cody is assigned the task of going to London, posing as a gifted child musician at Kenworth's school, and retrieving the mind-control device.
Most of the fun of the movie is supposedly handled by the supporting players. Rather than let Muniz carry the whole show, he's assisted by Anthony Anderson as Derek, Cody's partner in London. Anderson can be an amusing fellow, but here all he gets to do is slapstick, mucking up a kitchen, falling down, and such. Paul Kaye plays Neville Trupshaw, a weirded-out head of the CIA London's special-gadget division; he's a fellow far more creepy than he is funny. Then there's the pretty, blond, flute player, Emily Sommers (Hannah Spearritt), who eventually teams up with Cody on the investigation. And Keith David is the CIA Director, always befuddled, always at loose ends, always screaming at somebody.
Finally, there is Muniz himself, no longer the cute little kid we used to know but now something of a smug little prat. He's either constantly looking annoyed, acting confused, or being condescending. Whereas in the first film he seemed genuinely impressed that the CIA would want to use him as an agent, he now seems to know he's the star of the CIA's show and wants everyone else to know it, too.
Anyway, in one incredible edit, the mind-control devices are somehow implanted in the jaws of virtually everyone attending a European Summit Conference, including the English Prime Minister and the U.S. President, and Cody's got to do what he can to save the day. I wish the screenwriter had done more to save the picture.
The film is presented in two screen sizes on flip sides of a single disc, pan-and-scan on one side, widescreen on the other. The widescreen measures close to the movie's original theatrical-release dimensions, a ratio approximately 2.13:1 across a normal TV. The P&S version crops about 40% of the image off the sides in order to be blown up and fill a standard television screen. In some instances entire cars and people are cut out and disappear. It's a typical pan-and-scan creation, and in a way it's commendable that the studio offers both versions on one disc, since it satisfies all tastes. But it's curious that the folks at MGM seldom provide both screen formats for their more adult-oriented films. They apparently feel that it's primarily children who might be interested in a fullscreen, pan-and-scan rendering. Don't they know children are more tech-savvy than their parents? Haven't they watched either of their "Agent Cody Banks" films?
In any case, the widescreen rendering is a brightly glossy affair, just right for the kind of kids' movie it serves. There are some moiré effects, jittery, wavy lines, in evidence; definition is a bit on the soft side; and there are the occasional halos; but, overall, it's a good video presentation. While stock footage, like an airplane taking off, can be a tad grainy, most of the film looks clean.
Better than the video is the audio presentation. The Dolby Digital 5.1 sound exhibits excellent dynamics, good deep bass, and terrific surround-channel directionality. Helicopters, gunshots, rockets, voices, footsteps, and explosions come at the listener from all directions. Unfortunately, the audio system must also reproduce the raucous sound of children's pop music, which can become grating in no time flat. Unless, of course, you're a child used to wearing headphones 24/7 and listening to this kind of thing, in which case the sound and music work perfectly.
Understandably, the extras on this "Special Edition" disc are geared primarily toward youngsters. There is, first, an "Agent Mode" interactive quiz, wherein the actors from the movie interrupt the film to ask the viewer questions about what just happened. I got through a minute or two of that. Second, there's a "Spy on the Set" visual cast commentary, wherein the actors from the movie interrupt the film to talk about what's happening. I lasted a minute or two there as well. Third, fourth, and fifth, there are six deleted and extended scenes; an eight-minute promo, "Back in Action"; and a pair of photo galleries. Finally, there are thirty-two scene selections, a widescreen theatrical trailer, a cast listing and chapter insert, and some trailers for other MGM releases. The spoken language and subtitle options are English, French, and Spanish.
Incidentally, the disc forces you to skip through a series of preview trailers before getting to the main menu. You can't just press "Menu" and go directly to the movie; you have to skip through about four or five separate trailers individually. I hope MGM knows this is a nuisance, and I hope I'm not being cynical in wondering why the studio is currently doing this only on discs aimed at children.
Personally, I found "Agent Cody Banks 2" insultingly vapid and flat, but, then, I'm not a twelve or thirteen year old for whom the movie was undoubtedly intended. Every cliché an adult thinks a kid might enjoy seeing has been thrown into the pot, resulting in a brew that's pretty hard for anyone over thirteen to take. Heck, it's an insult to thirteen year olds. The only good I sense coming from this Cody Banks film is that it's so bad, we probably won't be seeing any more of them. Call me an optimistic; I live in hope.