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Agent Cody Banks*

It is only by accident that this turns out to be the first review I am posting in 2003. Currently, I am working on board the USS John C. Stennis (CVN-74), and staying on the ship during the week. The other evening, having nothing better to do, I decided to check out the offerings at the base theater at the Naval Air Station at North Island, Coronado, California. The theater is a huge edifice that I believe is a converted hangar, and it more resembles an old time neighborhood movie house than any place I've seen in years. For anyone who grew up back in the 1950s, religiously attending the Saturday double feature at the local Bijou, watching a movie there is a bit like plunging into a vat of lukewarm tea while clutching a life preserver of madeleines. On Wednesday night, the program was a double bill of Agent Cody Banks, directed by  Harald Zwart, and John McTiernan's latest movie, Basic. Actually, I would have preferred the McTiernan, but it only started after 8:00 PM, so I went into Agent Cody Banks, which had already started forty-five minutes or so before. 

Agent Cody Banks, written by Jeffrey Jurgensen (story) and Ashley Miller, Zack Stentz, Scott Alexander, and Larry Karaszewski (screenplay), concerns a teenage boy who is recruited by the CIA and trained as a spy. His goal is to date a girl whose father, a scientific genius, is being exploited by some bad guys who want to use one of his inventions--a "nanobot," a micro-robot that dissolves whatever it comes in contact with--to take over the world. Agent Cody Banks is a very silly but modestly entertaining production. I'm happy I didn't have to shell out hard cash to see it--the attractions at the base theater are free--but I didn't feel insulted after having sat through it.  

As Cody Banks, Frankie Muniz strikes the right combination of adolescent awkwardness and would-be aplomb. Occasionally watching him in action, I was reminded of the wonderful cartoons William Steig used to run in the New Yorker called "Dreams of Glory" depicting the fantasies of boys imagining themselves solving crimes or engaging in feats of derring-do. In the role of his crush, Natalie Connors, Hillary Duff with her glossy smile and blonde hair looks too much as if she had just wandered out of a TV ad for toothpaste, but Angie Harmon as Cody's CIA contact suggests a more adult and far more intriguing conception of femininity. In a smaller part, Keith David gives quite a good performance as the CIA director who is constantly infuriated by Cody's stunts. 

Among the villains, viewers will recognize Arnold Vosloo (The Mummy) who is quite good as Francois Molay, the henchman of the chief bad guy, Brinkman (Ian McShane). Molay has a fetish about his hair which serves as a source of some gags in Agent Cody Banks. Here, and at some other points, the film teeters on the edge of falling into the abyss of camp. Fortunately it draws back and sticks to its better intuition of remaining a comic takeoff on action pictures, a task at which it succeeds reasonably well. Agent Cody Banks has no memorable moments such as the ones even Spider-Man and XXX manage to pull off, but it keeps things going at a snappy pace. The photography by Dennis Crossan is competent if functional, but Jim Miller has done an outstanding job as editor.  

As a motion picture, Agent Cody Banks is negligible. But as a cultural document it has some interest. In the heyday of the James Bond movies in the 1960s, spying was definitely an elitist profession. Even last summer's XXX still remained faithful to this convention. Xander Cage (Vin Diesel) is a bad boy, but no ordinary street punk, and he has to survive a brutal training program at the beginning of the film to prove his stuff. Now in Agent Cody Banks, espionage turns out to be a fun pastime for teens like surfing or snowboarding. Any cyber-hip young dude with a computer at home can just log on to a Web site and start helping to save Western Civilization.   

Production data courtesy of The Internet Movie Database

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