AgentCodyBankscoverGrade: B+
Entire family: No, but darned close
2003, 102 min., Color
Olive Films
Rated PG for action violence, mild language, and some sexual content
Aspect ratio: 2.35:1
Featured audio: DTS-HDMA 5.1
Bonus features: B-
Amazon link

If you’re expecting Agent Cody Banks to be a cheap knock-off of Spy Kids ratcheted up a notch for the hormone-heavy teen set, director Harald Zwart’s first action outing may surprise you. Banks, Cody Banks, has the gadgets, the girls, the villains, the chases, the pyrotechnics, and the outstanding special effects to keep pace with middle-of-the-pack Bond flicks. Except that the sexual innuendos are tame by comparison, and the only consummation is a good-bye kiss at the end. It is, after all, rated PG, though there are more than a few scenes of peril and one graphic body-eating scene reminiscent of the face-melting in Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Besides action there’s plenty of humor in this film (a driver’s ed scene is classic), and the premise itself is fun. Parents who think their darlings are off at summer camp have no idea that a group of them are really being trained as junior secret agents. When a scientist (Martin Donovan) develops “nanobots,” microscopic robots that can be programmed to eat pretty much anything, the evil organization ERIS, led by the swaggeringly sinister Brinkman (Ian McShane), cons and bullies Dr. Connors into working for them. To find out what’s going on and to thwart them, the CIA assigns its first teen agent to get close to the scientist’s daughter, Natalie (Hilary Duff).

AgentCodyBanksscreenFans of the old TV series Malcolm in the Middle may be surprised at how natural TV star Frankie Muniz seems as a junior agent with one main problem: he doesn’t know how to talk to girls. As a teen Everyguy and reticent, almost painfully shy hero ala Timothy Dalton’s James Bond, he’s absolutely believable. But it was inspired casting to give The Mummy a part as Brinkman’s scarred and shaven henchman. As Molay, Arnold Vosloo is as memorably menacing as Jaws, Odd Job, or the best of the Bond villains. And Angie Harmon, the adult “handler”/partner who dresses retro in skin-tight clothes and acts unabashedly Emma Peel-like, has surprisingly good chemistry with Muniz. When the doctor disappears, then his daughter, it’s up to those unlikely partners to save them . . . and, of course, the world.

Zwart really manages to tap into the heart of teenage angst with Agent Cody Banks. Aside from the awkwardness around girls, there’s the importance of driving, encounters with bullies, chore-avoidance, the teasing siblings and friends, overly protective parents, and an ensemble of extras that makes us believe that world. Layer a spy plot on top of that, and you’ve got an entertaining blend of teen life and spy life, much more believable than the hard-to-fathom TV world of Scarecrow and Mrs. King, where a housewife was the agent and her kids the clueless ones. In Agent Cody Banks, the action never sags, and maybe that’s because Zwart was influenced by so many good films.

Astute viewers will spot homages to Dr. Strangelove, Austin Powers, Our Man Flint, Die Hard, Back to the Future, Spy Kids, and, of course, a number of the Bond films. It’s a good film for families who think their kids aren’t quite ready for Bond—even the tamer Sean Connery and Roger Moore films.

Language: Pretty mild, actually, with around a dozen lesser obscenities mouthed, often muted
Sex: An adult woman pulls the towel off a boy in a locker room, and the same woman covers herself when Cody tries on his X-ray glasses and stares at her chest
Violence: A man is eaten inside out by nanobots, a young boy is imperiled inside a runaway car, and there’s typical action violence (martial arts, fighting, explosions)
Adult situations: No smoking or drinking, which makes this ride Bond with training wheels
Takeaway: The Bond films never feel dated, and neither does Agent Cody Banks. It still plays well, and for that credit the special effects that compare favorably to today’s films and the fact that high school never seems to change.