- The Washington Times - Monday, March 17, 2003

"Agent Cody Banks" is a sorry attempt to repeat the success of the "Spy Kids" franchise, a pair of recent movies about underage spies who makelike James Bond and carry out various feats of derring-do.
This caper, with "Malcolm in the Middle" star Frankie Muniz in the title role, trades on that same formula, but its humor is flat, its special effects junky and its acting one big parodic mess.
The eponymous Cody is a typical teenager, except that he's, er, a CIA-trained secret agent. Not even his parents know; they thought they were sending their son to summer camp.
Cody's mission: to get chummy with the daughter (Hilary Duff) of a reclusive doctor (Martin Donovan) who's developing technology microscopic robots that "eat" everything in their path that potentially could destroy the world's communications system if a shadowy cabal led by a Dr. No-ish villain (Ian McShane) gets hold of it.
Lest you think our nation's intelligence masters would send a teenager on perilous missions without proper supervision, there's Cody's chaperone, Ronica Miles (Angie Harmon), a sultry brunette with clothes sense that would befit someone living in a space colony.
So this is what Miss Harmon left the brilliant "Law and Order" to pursue? Wearing tight, plastic suits and playing second fiddle to a teenage TV star? Snapping towels in a boy's locker room?
(The latter scene, by the way, is a little on the suggestive side, and parents with youngsters younger than, say, 14 may not appreciate it.)
Miss Harmon's career decision-making aside, let's get back to "Cody."
The CIA can't crack the case without our junior 007, but there's a catch: He's no good at talking to girls, and not just in the wooing sense. He literally can't talk to them and gets more tongue-tied than Sen. John Edwards on "Meet the Press."
What good is a secret agent if he can't wax suave with the ladies? And how are we to believe the CIA let Cody skip Charm 101?
With a little help from "Saturday Night Live's" Darrell Hammond, the teenage secret agent gets a crash course in impressing the chicks.
Mr. Hammond, barely funny here, also plays Cody's gadgets man. There are X-ray sunglasses (perfect for peeking at female chests, of course), suction-cup shoes, solo helicopterlike pods and being billed as first for the big screen a look at the Segway Human Transporter .
Remember all the hype about this mod scooter device, the ballyhooed invention people were simply calling "It"? The U.S. Postal Service uses these transporters; how revolutionary can they be?
Why couldn't this movie have given as much attention to the human element of its story line? The prevailing attitude of "Cody" is that young people want merely to be wowed by tech-heavy effects, which is true, up to a point.
Teenagers aren't stupid, however; they want a movie like this to have some meat on its computer-generated bones.
A good standard by which to judge a film geared for a young audience is to see if adults like it, too. Think "Shrek" or the earlier-mentioned "Spy Kids."
Parents, I suspect, will be making a second trip to the concession stand in the middle of this one.
"Want some more popcorn, son?" "Really? Can I?" "Yes, but only this once."
The problem with "Cody" is not that it's silly or fantastical. Those are pardonable movie sins. The problem with "Agent Cody Banks" is that it's silly without being funny, fantastical without being enchanting.
What's left?
Nothing but a retreaded plot, a chilly love story and a bunch of toys.

"Agent Cody Banks"
PG (Action violence, mild profanity and sexual suggestiveness)
Directed by Harold Zwart
110 minutes

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