AGENT CODY BANKS proves that it’s possible to make a smart kid’s film that adults will like, too. And this is all the more satisfying because when you see a hefty team of screenwriters in the credits, in this case , Zack Stenz, Ashley Miller, Scott Alexander, and Larry Karaszweski, it usually doesnt bode well for continuity or consistency. Nonetheless, our intrepid team takes a premise that’s unwieldy and turns it into a clever, well-written, and funny flick while never insulting our intelligence or asking us to strain credulity any further than absolutely necessary. As a matter of fact, early on it gives us an Army general asking no one in particular if having a teenage secret agent isn’t a silly idea. There, the issue is out in the open, acknowledged, so that we can all move on to a really good time.
The agent in question is the eponymous Cody Banks. He’s 15 and lives with his bratty little brother and Father Knows Best parents in Seattle, which in this film has more sunshine than the real Seattle has seen in the last decade. Cody’s smart, he’s inventive, and he’s got the fu thing down cold. Alas, while he can save a baby trapped in an out-of-control car, when it comes to the ladies, he’s a dud. After 30 seconds of his stuttering attempts at conversation, girls have a tendency to ask if he’s in Special Ed and that’s a problem because his first assignment is to get close to Natalie. She’s the blond and lovely daughter of a scientist (Martin Donovan, tweedy and sporting a permanent case of bedhead) who’s in some sort of cahoots with bad guy Ian McShane. We never do learn why McShane looks like he fell asleep on a tanning bed, nor why his creepy henchman (Arnold Vosloo, the mummy in THE MUMMY) favors velour tracksuits, but we do learn that the nefarious scheme he’s hatching involves nanotechnology and there’s no better choice for a nefarious scheme. It’s cool, it’s wicked hi-tech, and it is way cool to say. Nanotechnology. Nanotechnology. Nanotechnology. See?
But I digress.
Cody’s got the full support of the CIA behind him in the person of Angie Harmon, his guardian angel/handler who wears belly-button baring power suits and snaps a mean towel with extreme prejudice. When Cody gets the Special Ed question from Natalie, hes enrolled in a crash course in how to talk to girls in a sequence that’s not only witty, but also goes far towards explicating the bloated cross-purposes that often operate with the inner workings of government bureaucracy. Particularly informative on all counts is the lesson on the female anatomy from Will Farrell as the agency’s Clintonesque resident mad scientist right after the lesson from a government expert on hyena mating.
Director Harald Zwart has a knack with kids, they’re not one-liners on two legs, nor are they lower case adults. There’s a sweetness to them that dovetails with the film’s overall good-natured attitude towards itself. The humor avoids both PORKY’S-style puerility and cloying cutesiness. It helps that Frankie Muniz as Cody has a keen self-possession without a hint of precociousness. When his Cody gets close to a girl, there is an eager terror on his face and in his body language that hits the adolescence angst nail squarely on the head.
AGENT CODY BANKS also nails an homage to all those fun spy flicks from the 60s, with sets that evoke what we thought the future would like back then, costumes that Mrs. Peel would envy, and gadgets that Q would love right down to the rocket-powered skiboard. There’s even a running motif of agents using Segue’s to get around CIA headquarters, for a hint of what we in the 00s think the future will be. Here’s hoping for a sequel, and make it fast. Muniz ain’t getting any younger.