This review has been ‘repurposed’ from my other site, theOneliner.com
I’m getting a bit worried. Either I’m get a lot less picky about what I like or there’s actually been a rash of decent films coming our way from Hollywood, mostly in places where I’d expect to be busting out the Vitriol Cannon™. Agent Cody Banks has all the necessary elements for clunkerhood. Teen actors? Check. Aimed at kids? Check. Spy parody? Check. Z-list Brit playing supervillian? Check. Ludicrous plot? Check. Daft gadgets? Check. There’s much that indicates it’s going to be awful.
Somehow it isn’t. A sharp script, neatly done action scenes and a good performance from the charismatic boy-faced Frankie Muniz makes this more than the sum of its parts. It might not be fashionable to say so, but this is a damn good film that manages the difficult trick of having some appeal for adults while being firmly aimed at the kids, especially for those raised on a diet of Bond.
The CIA. decide to start a summer camp that is used to train prospective secret agents. Being secret and all no one else knows the occupation lying in wait for the junior agents, and they return to school waiting the call of duty. One of these kids was named Cody Banks (Muniz). We’re introduced to him as part of a normal family scene, Cody trying to wheedle out of chores, trading barbs with his younger brother and so forth. It’s only after he grabs his skateboard and heads off to school that his training shows through.
In a deliciously contrived set-piece, a mother nips out of a car to post some letters while leaving her toddler in the back. A mischievous little guy, he soon clambers out of his chair and into the driver seat. And releases the handbrake. And knocks the car in gear. And then turns round and locks the doors. Being on a hill, the motor quickly rolls off to a certain doom. A passing Banks decides to stop this nonsense, skating after the runaway car, traversing a variety of obstacles in his way including a randomly inclined pipe to allow for a suitably dramatic jump. He clambers on to the hurtling car, climbing through the sunroof just in time to slam on the handbrake and prevent the car from being totaled by a locomotive.
In many ways it’s a microcosm of the entire film. Its rather obviously contrived yet still fun. If it sounds a bit silly, that’s most likely because it is. Calling this film a Bond parody is a rather lazy way of describing the movie and it’s not entirely accurate. Parodies tend more towards sarcasm and general piss-taking, and while perhaps not obvious from the above scene it’s clear that the writers, Jeffrey Jurgensen and Ashley Miller have a love of it’s supposed target for lampoonery. In this respect it feels more like a homage to the classic early Bond films.
It’s more of a homage than anything else, as becomes apparent after cleavage-flashing Agent Ronica Miles (Angie Harmon) appears and whisks Cody off for details of a special assignment. It seems that a dodgy character has hired a brilliant nanotechnology scientist, Dr. Connors (Martin Donovan) to unwittingly create a strain of mini-robots capable of destroying a country’s entire military stockades, or anything else for that matter. All CIA agents close to this villain have been terminated. The Agency believes the best way to find out the details of this fiendish plan is to have an Agent get close to Connors’ daughter Natalie (Hilary Duff) and thus get closer to the reclusive scientist.
It’s not the job Cody was expecting, and given his terrible shyness problems with girls he’s going to have problems. He’s transferred to her school, stuck in her classes and given all the information he needs to get the girl. He fails miserably on several attempts, in situations that under less talented actors than Muniz would have been overly irritating. Certainly it’s the most conventional early teen comedy part of the movie and the weakest part of the movie, but it doesn’t last too long before the pace picks up again. After persevering and probably saving her life, or at least the discomfort of a few broken limbs she warms to Cody and invites him to her impending birthday party.
This is exactly what the agency wanted, giving Cody the chance to break into Dr. Connors’ lab for a further nosey into his plan. It’s actually almost a novel twist to have an agent that’s an unbeatable operative on the job but flustered and bumbling with the ladies, although arguably I Spy walks similar paths. Who’s the nefarious mastermind behind this scheme? Why it’s none other than TV’s second favourite antiques dealer (behind David Dickenson) Lovejoy! Well, Ian McShane at least. He’s Brinkman, playing a sort of cross between Blofeld and a schoolteacher. Bizarre casting, but I suppose English = evil.
There’s no point being evil unless you have an army. Simply and plainly introduced as his ‘henchman’, showing a remarkable and charming disregard for character development, is Francois Molay (Arnold Vosloo). Clearly he’s evil, what with his be-scarred throat. Either that or someone who’s had serious throat surgery. Oh, wait, he’s going to kidnap Hilary as leverage against Dr. Conners. That’d be evil, then. Dr. Conners was having a fit of ethics incompatible with Lovejoy’s plans of global domination but this entirely original twist is enough to get him back ‘on message’.
Cody puts up a brave fight against the goons sent to capture Hilary, with judicious paneling of villains with dual frying pans in what’s a homage to either Jackie Chan or Reeves and Mortimer. One of the many things that surprised me in this film is the remarkably decent fight sequences. Cody knows kung-fu, and while there are perhaps a few too many extraneously twisty kicks dealt out there’s also a fair amount of capture / submission manoeuvres going on, which is refreshing to see from a Hollywood flick that tends to find a style it likes and batter it to death.
Cody’s laid out by a surprise attack from Molay, who captures Hilary. When Cody revives he finds out he’s been drummed off the case and told to forget Hilary. Cody does the only thing he can do in this situation, waltz into the CIA. gadget labs and steal a jet powered snowboard. He travels to Lovejoy’s secret mountain base following a convenient placed transponder in Hilary’s necklace, taking out a few goons on snowmobiles in another Bond homage that succeeds more than the similar scene in the dire xXx due again to treating the source material with some reverence rather than merely mocking something that’s rightly become a popular institution.
He’s helped out of a tight spot by Ronica who’s decided to ignore orders and help Cody, now treating the junior agent as a partner rather than the burden she saw him as previously. Very conventional. Less so is her new toy, a kind of jetpack / helicopter frame thing. For me this was the only glaring flaw in the entire film, there’s really no reason to introduce these outlandish gadgets at this point. This contraption and the jet board smack of trying to add too much icing on a cake. There’s bounds to the silliness I’ll accept and this was pushing it.
Lovejoy’s secret mountain lair is a thing of sixties kitsch beauty, all unnecessarily complex and brightly lit in a You Only Live Twice style. Rather than a simple cell Hilary is held in a domed metal/frosted glass structure called something like Theta Containment. Cody and Ronica’s stand against this villainy follows Bond type fairly strictly, retaining the same tongue in cheek fun while still being a pretty exhilarating action sequence.
I can barely believe I’m typing this but Agent Cody Banks was incredibly good fun. There’s plenty of Bond references for the adults to collect, even some subtle ones such as a tannoy voice in the background of the CIA building asking the owner of the silver Aston Martin to please move his car. Given the strictly formulaic story and devices it follows it might have been in the same deep waters xXx found itself in, but the genuinely funny and at times downright surreal nature of the beast means Agent Cody Banks swims rather than sinks.
Oddities abound. The agents in the CIA buildings randomly scoot about on Segways. No reason is given. When Hilary asks what’s happened to her father Lovejoy responds “I’m……..not going to tell you.” in a Shatner-esque delivery of an unexpected line.
It has its flaws, for sure. The section concerned purely with Cody’s bumbling seduction of Hilary isn’t the sharpest or funniest section in the film, and it’s only once Cody returns to his hi-tech shenanigans and fighting that the pace picks up again. The transition between the two may also come as a little sudden and disjointed.
I’m a bit of a sucker for anything spy-based, as liking the otherwise mediocrely accepted I Spy and The In-Laws may prove. There’s just too many nice touches in here to not like it, transcending a (presumably purposefully) cliched and derivative script. It’s been taking a few minor knocks for having a few 2-D characters, mainly the villains. Very little screen time is devoted to them so there’s no real motive explanation behind their actions, but again I think that’s kind of the point. Whether or not a kid who probably won’t have the requisite Bond experience to appreciate the numerous homage’s to it will find it insulting to their intelligence is another thing, I’d wager not as there’s always enough action going on when they’re on screen for them not to notice.
There’s been some dire movies made that are aimed at kids that have had little to no thought and effort expended on them so it’s great to see a film that dares to be decent. It ought to remain fun for most adults too, as it’s no triter and cliched than Bond himself has been of late. It’s already been signed up for a sequel, and it’s more than deserving of it.