Dir: Harald Zwart. US. 2003. 102mins.
Teen heartthrob Frankie Muniz becomes a teen 007 in Agent Cody Banks, an energetic but overly cute and calculated junior spy adventure from Bond studio MGM and German-owned independent Splendid Pictures. Interest from teen and pre-teen audiences - in Muniz and in his co-star Hilary Duff - has been strong enough in the US to produce decent theatrical results: the film took $15m in its first weekend from 3,369 screens for a site average of $4,175, with strong ancillary results also likely. However, it is unlikely to attract the sort of numbers achieved by the fresher and younger-skewing Spy Kids franchise. The level of interest outside the US will depend largely on the popularity in any given territory of the stars' respective TV shows: Muniz' Malcolm In The Middle and Duff's Disney Channel 'tweener' hit, Lizzie McGuire.
The calculated feel is possibly the result of too many cooks working on the broth - the project's credits list eight executive producers (among them diva and children's author-to-be Madonna), five producers and four writers, including the Ed Wood team of Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski.
The latter group comes up with a fairly standard super-spy story for Muniz's 15-year-old title character, a bright and likeable Seattle high-schooler who, unbeknownst to his friends and parents, has become part of the CIA's national network of junior agents. Cody is called on by the Agency to get close to Natalie Connors (Duff), the pretty daughter of a scientist whose work on microscopic, ice-borne robots is being financed, for world domination purposes, by evil genius Brinkman (McShane). The trouble is, Cody does not share James Bond's suave way with the ladies: planted as a pupil at Natalie's up-market prep school, he first has to overcome his own social inadequacies so that he can get on with the job of foiling Brinkman's plot.
In setting up Cody's mission, the film offers its own versions of familiar Bond characters, including the stern spy-master (David), the sexy but standoffish minder (Harmon) and the eccentric gadget guru (a funny cameo from Saturday Night Live's Darrell Hammond).
Cody and Natalie's relationship might have given the story an interesting and realistic emotional thread, but instead the film focuses mainly on action. Norwegian director Harald Zwart (One Night At McCool's) delivers an exciting opening sequence in which Cody makes a daring skateboard rescue, but later action scenes are less thrilling.
Neither of the young stars gets to act much: Muniz, who has shown his comic talent in the likes of last year's Big Fat Liar, is more the budding action star/matinee idol here, while Duff, who will this summer star in Disney's The Lizzie McGuire Movie, rarely has to do anything more than beperky. Though the film makes glancing references to Cody's impending puberty, both the lead characters appear, perhaps because of the film's PG US rating, to be more like 12- olds than the 15-year-olds in the script.
Prod cos: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures, Splendid Pictures, Maverick Films
US dist: MGM
Int'l dist: 20 th Century Fox
Exec prods: Madonna, Jason Alexander, Jennifer Brichfield-Eick, Kerry David, Danny Gold, Michael Jackman, Mark Morgan, Bob Yari
Prods: Dylan Sellers, David C Glasser, Andreas Klein, Guy Oseary, David Nicksay
Scr: Ashley Edward Miller, Zack Stentz, Scott Alexander, Larry Karaszewski
Cinematography: Denis Crossan
Prod des: Rusty Smith
Ed: Jim Miller
Costume des: Suzanne McCabe
Music: John Powell
Main cast: Frankie Muniz, Hilary Duff, Angie Harmon, Keith David, Cynthia Stevenson, Arnold Vosloo, Ian McShane