A little bit an attempt to make a pint-sized "007" and a lot an attempt to capitalize on the success of the "Spy Kids" features, "Agent Cody Banks" offers none of the imagination of the "Kids" series, despite the fact that five writers are credited (and, on another note, no less than sixteen producers, including Madonna). The film stars Frankie Muniz (of TV's "Malcolm in the Middle") as Cody Banks, a teenager who - for unconvincing reasons - is recruited by the CIA to become one of their new league of kiddie agents.
Cody is recuited early on to get close to Natalie Connors (Hilary Duff), whose scientist father (Martin Donovan) is developing "nano-technology" - in other words, microscopic robots that could either be helpful or potentially destructive. Under the guidance of operative Ronica Miles (Angie Harmon), Cody has to gain the trust of Natalie and find out more information about her father.
Of course, that would work if he could actually get together the nerve to talk to her. And to be able to get out of the house and complete his mission without his parents knowing. And to stop his little brother from making fun of him. And...despite the fact that most kids will easily relate to this, most of them will have likely seen these situations played out many times before. Given the small budget ($26m), there's little in the way of action scenes or convincing visual effects. Adult characters are played blandly and as unintelligent (only one of the many cliches of the script); the only one who gets laughs is "Saturday Night Live"'s Darryl Hammonds, who plays the CIA's gadget guru.
Frankie Muniz was entertaining and good-natured in "Big Fat Liar" and on TV's "Malcolm in the Middle", but Cody Banks seems less like a distinct character than the actor's "Malcolm" character playing a spy. Duff (of Lizzy McGuire fame) has little to do aside from being the damsel-in-distress. Angie Harmon, dressed up in skin-tight outfits, is nice to look at, but some may find her outfits inappropriate for children's fare.
This isn't a bad concept - a more down-to-earth "Spy Kids" (despite the fact that the whole "spy kids" concept seems played out, the success of this film and the third in the "Kids" series would suggest otherwise). The screenplay seems mostly made up of cliches and tired humor. The film's jokes may go over well with the target audience, but I was bored (although I did chuckle when Harmon's character turned on the "parental control" function on Cody's X-Ray glasses). With the film's limited budget and production values, the action isn't terribly well-handled or exciting, either. Hopefully a new director can make more out of the already in-production sequel.
VIDEO: "Agent Cody Banks" is presented here in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen and, on the flip side, 1.33:1 pan & scan. The anamorphic widescreen presentation doesn't exactly do wonders for the picture, offering a slightly dark and occasionally soft appearance, with average definition overall.
It doesn't end there, however - some noticable instances of pixelation are detected in a handful of the darker scenes, while mild amounts of edge enhancement are spotted on a few occasions. The print seemed to be in satisfactory condition, with only a couple of minor specks. Colors seemed somewhat subdued (partially due to the slightly dark appearance of the presentation), with only occasional brighter tones. Overall, this seemed like a very average transfer, even moreso, given how stunning many recent transfers have been.
SOUND: "Agent Cody Banks" is presented by MGM in Dolby Digital 5.1. Despite the material, the soundtrack is surprisingly average. The surrounds are used occasionally for reinforcement of the score, but other than that - and a few flyovers - they remained largely silent. The soundtrack offered a few bassier sound effects on occasion, but the soundtrack otherwise lacked dynamic range. Dialogue remained clear and clean, though.
EXTRAS: The DVD includes a commentary from director Harold Zwart and actors Angie Harmon and Frankie Muniz. Although the commentary starts off a little too "happy", with all the participants talking about how wonderful everything is, the three settle down eventually and start actually providing some enjoyable information about the production, story and script development and technical aspects. I didn't like the movie much, but the three provided a fun and somewhat enjoyable discussion.
The pan & scan side of the DVD includes the other supplemental features.
Developing Cody Banks: A 4 1/2-minute feature on casting, story ideas and the various meetings and discussions that took place before the movie started. This is a brief, enjoyable featurette that takes kids on a tour that they'll understand of the kind of meetings and decisions that have to be made before a movie begins.
Creating Cody's World: This is split into two short pieces, "Ronica's Closet" (Harmon's costume designs) and "Production Design".
Posting Cody Banks: "A Few Dope Items" looks at Cody's gadgets and the film's FX, while "The Music of 'Agent Cody Banks'" takes a look at creating the film's score.
Director's Diary: This 12-minute offering has the camera following director Harold Zwart as he goes through preparation of some of the film's bigger scenes, the process of editing and the film's release.
Also: Storyboard-to-scene comparisons for the opening and ending; 3 multi-camera sequences, a featurette on star Muniz, "Agent Action", "How to Talk to Girls", "Hilary Duff's Make-up Tricks", Deleted Scenes, Outtakes, Photo Gallery, trailer for "Agent Cody Banks", teaser for "Agent Cody Banks 2", trailers for "Legally Blonde", "Uptown Girls", "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang: SE",
Final Thoughts: Although they're movies targeted at kids, I've found the "Spy Kids" movies energetic, inspired and intelligent. "Cody Banks" doesn't manage to offer the kind of effects, action, heart, humor or wit that the "Kids" movies offer. Although it had potential and a few decent moments, I was often bored, as the film's predictable humor fell flat and its few action sequences offered little thrills. It'll appeal to kids, I'm sure, but adults may not find it so enjoyable.