'Cody Banks' has access to gadgets

Times Staff Writer

Don't mess with Cody Banks, who combines the karate skills of Jackie Chan with enough gadgetry and stunts for three James Bond movies. He may sound like Superman, but there's a catch: He's a nice, normal, middle-class Seattle high school kid who's about 16 but looks younger.

Back when he was a mere 13, Cody answered an ad in a magazine devoted to spies and wound up at a summer camp run by the CIA as part of its agent development plan. The notion that the CIA would be recruiting teenagers -- and without their parents' knowledge -- is pretty creepy, but then can anything really be called incredible in today's world?

In any case, the idea of a teenage 007 is the starting point for "Agent Cody Banks," a clever and lively action-adventure with a warm sense of humor and smart dialogue that allows for an affectionate and fleet-footed satire of the classic elements of the Bond franchise. It works remarkably well considering this is not entirely new territory, thanks to Robert Rodriguez's "Spy Kids" movies.

In a bravura opening sequence, the filmmakers shrewdly establish that Frankie Muniz's Cody may be a normal guy but is far from ordinary when he exhibits the derring-do of an old-time cliffhanging serial in rescuing an infant from a car running out of control down a steep midtown Seattle street. Not surprisingly, Cody is nowhere to be found when the frantic mother is eager to thank her child's savior.

Presently, Ronica (Angie Harmon), Cody's tough, statuesque "handler," has an assignment for him: He's got to woo the pretty daughter (Hilary Duff) of a scientist (Martin Donovan), a world-renowned nanotechnologist, which means that he is developing microscopic robots with the power to destroy the world. Donovan's Dr. Connors is backed by ERIS, a shadowy research enterprise with a truly amazing laboratory hidden in the Cascade mountains and run by the decidedly sinister Brinkman (Ian McShane) and his thuggish henchman Molay (Arnold Vosloo), blind in his right eye and scarred across his neck. Donovan's Dr. Connors has to be pretty obtuse ever to do business with such blatantly bad guys.

There is a hitch in the CIA's plan to get to Connors through his daughter: Cody may be otherwise fearless, but when it comes to girls he's hopelessly tongue-tied. To save the world, Cody first has to overcome his shyness and develop self-confidence with the opposite sex.

As for all those gadgets at Cody and Ronica's disposal, they include Snow Hawks, which look to be jet-propelled skis, the Solotrek XFV (Exoskeletal Flying Vehicle) and the Silver Volt, Cody's super-powerful electric car.

Amazingly, these vehicles actually exist. As one would expect of a secret agent worth his salt, Cody carries magnetic X-ray sunglasses (which enable him to see through girls' clothes right to their Victoria's Secrets), wears suction-cup shoes so he can walk on ceilings, and has a wristwatch equipped with stun rays.

The film is studded with energetic action sequences in which all these items and more are put to use, both in everyday locales, and in dramatic, large-scale laboratories and on snowy mountain slopes.

Working with a script by many hands, director Harald Zwart imposes an easy, flowing style and a unified vision on the material, which strikes a smooth balance between Cody's routine family life and his fantastic exploits, presented with just the right degree of tongue-in-cheekery. Similarly, Harmon's adamantine Ronica, Keith David's swaggering CIA director, and McShane and Vosloo's villains are not to be taken too seriously.

Yet Duff's lovely, spontaneous Natalie Connors and especially Muniz remain down-to-earth, likable teens. The film ultimately rests on the resilient shoulders of Muniz. Well-designed and displaying plenty of technical finesse, "Agent Cody Banks" may be targeted at teens, but even their grandparents might consider it fun.


'Agent Cody Banks'

MPAA Rating: PG, for action violence, mild language and some sexual content.

Times guidelines:Action emphasizes spectacle more than violence. Language and sexual allusions are mild.

Frankie Muniz...Cody Banks

Hilary Duff...Natalie Connors

Angie Harmon...Ronica Miles

Keith David...CIA Director

Ian McShane...Brinkman

An MGM presentation of a Splendid Pictures/Maverick Films/Dylan Sellers production. Director Harald Zwart. Producers David C. Glasser, Andreas Klein, Guy Oseary, Dylan Sellers, David Nicksay. Executive producers Mark Morgan, Jason Alexander, Jennifer Birchfield-Eick, Kerry David, Danny Gold, Michael Jackman, Madonna, Bob Yari. Screenplay Ashley Edward Miller & Zack Stentz and Scott Alexander & Larry Karaszewski; from a story by Jeffrey Jurgensen. Cinematographer Denis Crossan. Editor Jim Miller. Music John Powell. Stunt coordinator Scott Ateah. Visual effects supervisor Raymond McIntyre Jr. Costumes Suzanne McCabe. Production designer Rusty Smith. Art director Kelvin Humenny. Set decorator Lesley Beale.

In general release.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World