Since this is the last Kids’ Film Friday of the year, and I am at home with my nieces, I was intending to watch something with them. Unfortunately, they have the attention spans of a particularly distracted goldfish (and they’re in bed by six) so I had to improvise. Shame though; it might have been fun to get the perspective of a two-year-old.
High School is not enough.
Unknown to his family and friends, 15-year-old Cody is part of an experimental CIA program to find and train junior agents for specialised missions. He is sent into an elite prep school to gather information from the daughter of a top nano-tech scientist involved in an evil plan. The only problem is that despite all his training and gadgets, Cody can’t talk to girls. Can he get over his crippling shyness in time to save the world?
Just to get it out of the way, I wasn’t expecting much from this movie. I was never really a big Malcolm in the Middle fan, so I wasn’t really au fait with the charms of young Frankie Muniz. Consider me pleasantly surprised in a lot of ways, although not entirely without reservation.
The film opens with Cody on his skateboard having to chase and stop a runaway car with a baby in the front seat. You might think that something like this is what brought him to the attention of the CIA, only to find out from some clumsy exposition that Cody was actually recruited two years before the flick starts and is already a highly trained operative. While this allows the movie to jump straight to the action, it could have been dealt with a bit more gracefully; I got the feeling during these first twenty minutes or so that I had missed the first installment of a franchise. Luckily Angie Harmon arrives as Cody’s handler. In a wardrobe that seems to have been designed just to show off her cleavage and toned stomach (not that I’m complaining) Harmon lends the flick a tone of extreme cynicism, playing the role of a top agent bitter at being assigned to babysitting duty. Hilary Duff doesn’t have much to do but be cute and in danger, but she still hardly stretches herself. Despite the charismatic tag team of Muniz and Harmon though, the entire film is ripped from underneath their feet by Ian McShane as the criminal mastermind. Picture Ernst Blofeld with an extra side helping of camp and you’re nearly there. McShane clearly delights in this kind of thing, delivering his fairly standard lines with obvious relish.
Harald Zwart, director of the recent Karate Kid remake, ringmasters this circus with no small amount of skill, tossing in teen-friendly knockoffs of all the expected spy movie moments. There were a couple of scenes that rang a bit hollow however, such as the unfortunately racist Asian stereotype driving teacher, and the fact the hero of the flick is a teenager with a body count. As movies aimed at under-15s go, I suppose there are a lot worse out there. Agent Cody Banks is a technically competent and decently acted film, which is a lot more than I can say for some of the other kids’ films I have suffered through these past twelve months.