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'Cody Banks'

Muniz is a charming spy kid in 'Cody Banks'

Friday, March 14, 2003

By Barbara Vancheri, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

If ever a teenager needed a secret alter ego, it's Cody Banks (Frankie Muniz).

'Agent Cody Banks'

RATING: PG for action violence, mild language and some sensual content

STARRING: Frankie Muniz, Hilary Duff

DIRECTOR: Harald Zwart

WEB SITE: www.agentcodybanks


Local movie showtimes


His mother nags him about his chores, boys at school tease him in the locker room, and he's so tongue-tied around girls that they invariably ask if he's in special ed. Little does anyone know that he's Agent Cody Banks, a junior James Bond who works for the CIA. Even his pesky little brother and parents don't realize that his summer camp was actually a spy training ground.

When the CIA bigwigs have a mission that calls for a 15-year-old Seattle boy, they summon Cody, only to realize that he exaggerated his lady-killing abilities. But America's security hangs in the balance, so Cody has to get close to dream girl Natalie Connors (Hilary Duff), once he is able to speak to her in coherent sentences, that is.

She's his ticket to her scientist father, who has invented microscopic robots known as nanobots. If they fall into the wrong hands, the evildoers will win. With a little help from his CIA friends, Cody befriends Natalie, only to find both of their lives are in danger.

"Agent Cody Banks" takes the "Spy Kids" idea and strips away the parents and one of the siblings and focuses on a teenage boy, who happens to be played by a talented young actor. Muniz, an Emmy nominee for "Malcolm in the Middle" and star of "Big Fat Liar" and "My Dog Skip," is still in that safe zone -- a softer version of the teen cover boys -- which makes him cute but non-threatening.

When he's standing next to his reluctant CIA handler, played by Angie Harmon in made-for-cleavage costumes, hair and makeup reminiscent of the '60s, he looks like a boy. That's important when he joins her on the SoloTrek XFV, a device that takes off and lands like a helicopter. Otherwise, there would be a weird, inappropriate vibe.

"Agent Cody Banks," which features Cody getting a lesson about his own James Bondian bag of tricks, is just a lot of fun to watch. While some of the scientific material will sail over the heads of the very young, grade-schoolers and teens will delight in the gadgets, stunts and action scenes. It doesn't hurt that tween queen Duff is the star of the Disney Channel's "Lizzie McGuire," while the villains include Arnold Vosloo, Imhotep from "The Mummy."

Cody manages to get the girl who was "so out of his league," convince the CIA to do his chores and homework, put one over on his parents and bribe his blabbermouth brother. And to drive a couple of really cool cars and save the world.

Given the PG rating and probable target audience, there's a bit of juvenilia involving flatulence and dog urination. However, it's a PG movie that is deserving of its rating, and the producers were not stingy when it came to the production values (except for shooting in Canada, of course).

And once the movie started, a Saturday morning preview audience of energetic children quit doing wind sprints in the aisles and took their seats. And stayed there. Now, that's something.

Barbara Vancheri can be reached at bvancheri@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1632.

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