Have you seen the commercials for the "Kidz Bop" CDs, in which they take songs which are ostensibly aimed at teenagers and dummy then down for younger kids? As odd as this concept may be, it's a perfect example of knowing one's target audience and knowing how to tailor product to that audience. The same can be said of the film Agent Cody Banks, which, like those "Kidz Bop" songs, takes the James Bond franchise and modifies it for teenagers.
Cody Banks (Frankie Muniz) is your typical middle-school kid. He has trouble talking to girls, fights with his little brother, and doesn't like doing his chores. Oh, and he also received special training at a CIA summer camp, a fact that he's kept hidden from everyone in his life. Meanwhile, evil industrialist Brinkman (Ian McShane) has taken scientist Dr. Connors (Martin Donovan) hostage in order to force the genius to create destructive nano devices. Cody is summoned by the CIA Director (Keith David) to assist in the case. Cody's mission is to get close to Connors' daughter Natalie (Hilary Duff) in order to learn the whereabouts of her father. CIA agent Ronica Miles (Angie Harmon) is assigned to be Cody's handler. Cody is placed in Natalie's school, in all of the same classes, so getting close to her should be easy. There's just one problem -- despite his CIA training, Cody still has trouble talking to girls. Will Cody be able to overcome this shyness and save the world?
I guess the only reason that Agent Cody Banks wasn't called "James Bond, Jr." is that A) that title's already been used for an animated series, and B) Cody isn't British and that would have caused an uproar. But, other than those two factors, this film is James Bond-Lite all the way. Items such as Brinkman's lair and a snowboard/snowmobile chase seem to be lifted wholly from a 007 film. There's even a scene in which Cody wears a black suit, which isn't exactly like a Bond-esque tuxedo, but it's pretty darn close.
Now, is all of this a bad thing? Certainly not. Actually, it's a stroke of genius to take the idea of something like the James Bond franchise, which despite its ongoing popularity, may not appeal to teenagers, and make something for the younger set. And overall, the film is pretty good. The action scenes are very well done, most notably the opening scene in which Cody skateboards to the rescue of a child and the fiery finale. Frankie Muniz is very good as Cody, especially when we get to see the dichotomous nature of a highly trained spy who still stammers around girls. Keith David is also good as the constantly annoyed CIA director.
But, the movie has its problems as well. The success of any film of this nature rests on the villain, and Brinkman is simply too much of a stereotype, right down to his Blofeld/Dr. Evil outfit. He just doesn't have much screen presence, nor does he come across as particularly menacing. Hilary Duff is the other weak link in the casting. She may be cute and perky, but she certainly can't act and even the most mundane lines, such as "What are you doing here?", sound forced and artificial coming from her. There are also some issues with the film's tone. The shy and awkward Cody really comes to life during the action scenes and isn't afraid to use violence to solve problems. Some parents may find that disturbing for a PG movie.
The Special Edition DVD of Agent Cody Banks includes both the widescreen and full-frame versions of the film. The widescreen version has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. As with the film's tone, this transfer is all over the place. For the most part, the image is above average, as it is clear and free from problems. But, the opening shot (:39) is incredibly grainy. The shot at the opening of Chapter 5 is so dark and muddy, it looks as if it were taken from a work print. Many shots show definite artifacting and pixellating. But, once again, some shots look perfect. Surprisingly, the snowbound scenes show virtually no grain. Also, the numerous CGI effects look good. So, this is a tough one to call, as this is one of the most inconsistent transfers that I've ever seen.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which graces this DVD fares much better than the video component, but it shows some problems as well. This track offers clear dialogue, showing no evidence of hissing or distortion. But, for an action film, there isn't as much surround sound action as one would expect. During the action scenes, especially the finale, the surround sound effects sound great, most notably the explosions, which offer a great deal of bass, the effect of the helicopter going from speaker-to-speaker. But, other than those scenes, and the occasional musical cue, the rear speakers stay relatively silent.
MGM Home Entertainment has taken the box-office success of Agent Cody Banks as their cue to load the DVD with a ton of extras. We start with an audio commentary featuring director Harald Zwart, and stars Frankie Muniz and Angie Harmon. This is one of those fun commentaries, which mixes jovial humor with background info. Zwart gives technical details about the shooting of the film, while Muniz and Harmon describe their roles and the rigors of the stuntwork. This commentary can be found on both the widescreen and full-frame sides of the DVD.
The remainder of the extras are located on the full-frame side of the disc only. The majority of the segments offered here are short featurettes which must be accessed individually. Much like the recently released How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days DVD, I can't help but wonder why all of this footage wasn't edited into one long featurette, instead of six shorter ones. So, here we go. (Note: the running time for each featurette is the whole running time, but each segment contains at least 1 minute of credits.) We start with "Developing Agent Cody Banks" (5 minutes), which examines the casting process, screen tests, production meetings, and location scouting. "Creating Cody's World" contains two sub-sections. "Production Design" (6.5 minutes) introduces us to production designers Rusty Smith who also worked on the two Austin Powers sequels, and also explores some of the film's props. "Ronica's Closet" (4 minutes) gives an overview of the work that went into creating the costumes for the film. Next up is "Posting Cody Banks", which again has two parts. "A Few Dope Items" (6 minutes) examines the film's visual effects and gives specifics on how the CGI effects were created. "The Muisc of Agent Cody Banks" (4.5 minutes) profiles composer John Powell and examines how the film's score was created. "Director's Diary" (12 minutes) follows director Harald Zwart throughout the production of the film, from his computer pre-visualizations to editing to the premiere. "Frankie Muniz Going Big" (7 minutes) isn't an examination of the "Malcolm in the Middle" star's career, but an overview of how the opening skateboarding scene was shot. "Agent Action" (7 minutes) examines the martial arts fighting and the elaborate stunts in the film. And finally, "Cool Makeup Tricks by Hilary Duff" (1.5 minutes) has the "Lizzie McGuire" describing the kind of makeup that she wore in the film. And the DVD reaches a new low. There is a great deal of information and behind-the-scenes footage in these featurettes, but, once again, it would have been much better if they'd been edited together.
The remainder of the extras are more standard fare. There are storyboard-to-film comparisons for 2 scenes, as well as multi-camera sequences for 3 scenes. There are 6 deleted scenes, none of which are that interesting, unlike the 3 minutes of outtakes, which are quite amusing. There are 2 still galleries, one of behind-the-scenes shots and the other photos of the cast. The DVD contains the original theatrical trailer for Agent Cody Banks, which has been letterboxed at 1.85:1. There is also a teaser for Agent Cody Banks 2, which contains no actual footage from that film. Finally, we have a 1 minute segment entitled "How to Talk to Girls", in which the cast gives advice on wooing women.
While watching Agent Cody Banks, I turned to my wife and asked, "As a female, can you relate to this at all?" Her response was "No." The film is the epitome of an adolescent male fantasy and boys of any age should find it appealing. And the presence of teeny sensation Hilary Duff should bring in the girls as well. The movie has some fun moments, but pales in comparison to the sophistication of James Bond.