Agent Cody Banks

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Agent Cody Banks

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The only major problem with the Spy Kids movies, other than the charmingly cut-rate special effects, is the kids themselves: They're played by the sort of caffeinated child actors who let their enthusiasm get the better of them, emphasizing each gesture as if the camera were 100 yards away. Agent Cody Banks–the latest kiddie derivative of the gadget-crazed James Bond formula–takes care of the casting issue with Malcolm In The Middle's Frankie Muniz, a boyish, unassuming runt who wears a bright, what-have-I-won expression that's instantly ingratiating. But director Harald Zwart (One Night At McCool's) and his extensive team of screenwriters don't have enough imagination between them to fill out the average montage in Spy Kids, much less an entire movie. Much like last year's Clockstoppers, Agent Cody Banks starts with a workable premise about an adolescent boy grappling with the equally intimidating specters of supervillains and schoolgirls, but it only gets through a few cool gizmos before the ideas start to evaporate. Leading a double life as an awkward high-school student and a highly skilled CIA agent, Muniz tackles his first assignment after a rogue criminal organization threatens to develop "nanobots," microscopic robots that can eat through metal and other synthetic materials. In order to monitor the reclusive doctor (Martin Donovan) in charge of the project, Muniz needs to enroll in a snooty new private school and get close enough to Donovan's fetching daughter (Hilary Duff) that he can infiltrate her birthday party. But while he's brave and capable in the field, his notorious tendency to freeze up around girls makes him a social outcast and puts the mission in jeopardy. Bubblegum spy fantasies are only as good as their high-tech accessories, and Cody boasts a sorry inventory: X-ray sunglasses (made less fun with a V-chip), a holographic cell phone, a wristwatch with a shock button, and a fleet of Segway scooters, which any self-respecting kid would find totally lame. Perhaps wary of comparisons to Muniz's clever TV show, Zwart favors hyperactive adventure over the observational humor found on Malcolm, which may be just as well, since all he can cough up is an apoplectic Chinese driver's-ed teacher and a round of "Who farted?" in the CIA van. Before long, the generic intrigue and chase scenes take over, leaving poor Muniz at the mercy of stunt doubles and chintzy special effects. Under the right circumstances, Muniz would make a more charismatic Bond than Pierce Brosnan, but if all the producers needed was someone to pose on a snowboard against a bluescreen projection of a mountain, any grinning sap on Nickelodeon would have sufficed.

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