In the beginning there was Bond.
Thereafter followed a score of women spies, comic spies, teams of spies, and, more lately, kid spies. This 2003 variation, "Agent Cody Banks," falls into the latter category, a movie about an adolescent operative in the mold of "Spy Kids." Cody must be a part of the same government agency that trained the Disney youngsters. Maybe we'll even see all of them together in the same film some day, providing they never grow up. In any case, Cody Banks is a little older than the Spy Kids and, consequently, more into the girl thing. I'm not sure it improves the picture.
The girl thing does, however, make the movie more appealing to young teens who probably shunned the "Spy Kids" films as too juvenile. That and the fact that the star of "Cody Banks" is Frankie Muniz, big-time TV guy from "Malcolm in the Middle," helped the film do pretty well at the box office. Well, those things and an advertising campaign that blitzed every network on television for what seemed like months. I could have sworn I'd seen the movie long before I'd ever seen the movie.
Muniz does a good job as the leading character, a fifteen-year-old who's too shy and tongue-tied to talk to a girl, even when the fate of the world depends on it, which it does. But he's up to the real action quickly enough. In the opening scene he uses a skateboard to save the life of a child in a runaway car. All in a day's work for junior CIA agent Cody Banks.
Meanwhile, in Hong Kong at the headquarters of the evil organization known only as "E.R.I.S.," nefarious plans are afoot to turn a scientist's creation of nanobots, microscopic robots that can be programmed to do anything, into a secret weapon to conquer the world. The key to stopping this dastardly scheme is find somebody who can get close to the scientist's teenage daughter and through her learn more about her father's invention. What do you mean, whom do they get for the job? "Banks, Cody Banks."
Cody's been trained in CIA summer camp to do everything: fight, shoot, drive, fly, everything, that is, except romance a girl. There he's a complete wash. So the first half of the picture concerns Cody's attempts to get acquainted with the young lady, while the second half is occupied with the usual action antics of an exaggerated spy thriller. I'm not sure which part I liked better; neither, perhaps, since nothing new, fresh, or creative happens in either case.
As usual, the CIA is all-powerful, knowing everything about everybody on the planet. Not quite like real life where apparently the Agency often depends on unconfirmed, secondhand information for its ever-changing "intelligence." Oh, well, it's only a movie. The Agency gives Cody all the necessary gadgets for this sort of work: X-ray glasses (and what teenage boy wouldn't want a pair of these in high school?); a cell phone with a holographic display; a wristwatch that emits an electric shock; a super-duper, jet-powered skateboard; a portable pen-laser-blow-torch combination; you know, standard spy-issue equipment.
The script is also big on the usual teenage fascination for flatulence, dog poop, prep-school bullies, and the like. Poor Muniz gets placed in one clichéd situation after another in a plot that comes straight from early Bonds, "Mission Impossible," and "Spy Kids." Two things I did enjoy, however: first, the sight of a classic Ferrari Dino GT that Cody gets to drive, the 1973 Italian automobile still one of the most beautiful designs ever put on the road; second, a cute PA announcement at CIA headquarters: "Will the owner of the silver Aston Martin please move your car. You're in a handicapped zone."
Co-starring in the movie are Hilary Duff as Natalie Connors, the beautiful young lady Cody must pick up on. All scientist's daughters are beautiful; it's a law. Angie Harmon plays Ronica Miles, Cody's sexy CIA handler, guide, and partner. No matter what her attire, Ms. Harmon's navel is showing; it's a law. Keith David plays the head of the CIA. Keith David is the name everybody gets confused with David Keith; it's a law. Then there's Ian McShane as Brinkman, the evil head of E.R.I.S. It's sad to see so charismatic an actor as McShane, TV's Lovejoy, reduced to playing a cardboard villain who is neither sardonic nor menacing. A shame, as well, to see another good Hollywood heavy, Arnold Vosloo of "The Mummy" fame, in the part an E.R.I.S. henchman of no distinction.
"Agent Cody Banks" is a kids' movie, plain and simple, and as such I suppose it works. But good kids' movies can work for adults, too, and this one doesn't. Unlike "Spy Kids," for instance, which emphasized family unity, "Banks" sticks to the more tried-and-true Hollywood formula of having parents clueless clods to be avoided at all cost. It's typical of a movie that is not very inventive, not very exciting, not very clever, and not very funny.
The picture is presented on one side of the disc in a widescreen theatrical exhibition format measuring an anamorphic ratio of approximately 2.11:1, and on the other side a true pan-and-scan presentation. By true P&S I mean you lose about thirty-five per cent of the original image, left and right, in close-ups to fill your screen. I didn't bother watching much of the P&S version, but in widescreen the picture quality is merely OK. It's slightly blurred overall, the colors not always showing up as brightly or as well defined as they might. Faces comes off as a tad purplish, too. Indoor shots are a little hazy, and outdoor shots are a little dark. It's nothing to distract one from the movie, but I mention it in passing. The transfer is very clean, however, with no grain and very few moiré effects of any kind.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio fares better than the video, with a few expected surround sounds coming through distinctly in musical ambiance, car noises, crowds, fights, explosions, and airplane and hovercraft flyovers. The front channels display excellent stereo spread, with good dynamics and a decent frequency range (though not really too deep or too exceptional). The general impression one comes away with is that of hearing clear, somewhat bright, movie-house sound.
This Special Edition disc is loaded with extras, but they are mostly of the shorter, plentiful variety, a slew of little featurettes that I thought could have been better handled as a single, longer documentary, perhaps divided into chapters. But, instead, we get a dozen or more different five and six-minute bits to click on endlessly. So, here's what we have: An audio commentary with director Harald Zwart and stars Frankie Muniz and Angie Harmon; six deleted scenes in widescreen but not enhanced; three minutes worth of outtake goofs; three featurettes, "Frankie Muniz Going Big" (seven minutes), "How to Talk to Girls" (one minute), and "Cool Makeup Tricks by Hilary Duff" (one minute); storyboard-to-film comparisons for two scenes; three multi-camera sequences; a four-minute promo feature, "Developing Cody Banks"; another promo feature, "Creating Cody's World" (three minutes); still another promo, "Posting Cody Banks" (six minutes); and yet another promo, "Agent Action" (six minutes). Then there are two photo galleries, one behind-the-scenes and one of the cast; a twelve-minute "Director's Diary"; a theatrical trailer and teaser for "Cody Banks" and a series of trailers for other MGM films; and a healthy thirty-two scene selections. Spoken languages and subtitles come in a choice of English, French, and Spanish.
Finally, a compliment: MGM studios remain one of the few companies producing DVDs that continue to offer both a widescreen and pan-and-scan format on a single disc for most of their films, a good selection of languages, subtitles, and chapter selections, and a booklet insert listing not only chapters but the cast as well. I know it's more expensive producing DVDs this way, but it's a commendable way of satisfying as many people's needs as possible.
Although I didn't care for the movie, apparently a lot of other viewers did because MGM decided to go ahead with making a sequel before young Frankie Muniz got too much older. "Agent Cody Banks" should hold some appeal for young folks, but its attraction for adults is limited, the movie being based on everything that's ever been done before.