When he was 12 years old Cody Banks (Frankie Muniz) was recruited to attend a summer camp secretly run by the CIA. Four years later the Agency comes knocking on his door with a mission: He must get close to Natalie Connors (Hilary Duff) a prep school student in Cody's home town and the daughter of a scientist developing deadly nanobot technology for the evil organization ERIS. Problem is Cody is not the most confident guy when it comes to girls and meeting Natalie proves to be a mission in itself. Luckily for Cody his agency mentor is the stunning Ronica Miles (Angie Harmon) who knows a thing or two about relationships. Cody must now prove himself as an agent and stop ERIS from completing its mission. Can he do it? And more importantly will he get the girl? With its crop of predictable gadgets and two-dimensional villains Agent Cody Banks MGM's answer to James Bond for 'tweens is not too imaginative. But its likeable cast and characters make this pic a tolerable undertaking.
Muniz is only 16 years old but he's hardly a newcomer to Hollywood. He stars in Fox's hit sitcom Malcolm in the Middle and has two features My Dog Skip and Big Fat Liar under his belt. Muniz doesn't come across as a manufactured Hollywood kid actor and there is something refreshing about the fact that he doesn't use puppy dog eyes or speak childishly to wring sympathy out of moviegoers. He possesses an intelligence that comes through in his work especially here where he plays a quick-thinking operative. Duff meanwhile stars in her own hit Disney Channel series Lizzie Maguire a comedy about a young teenager and her animated alter ego. In Cody Banks Duff plays Natalie a smart and clever teen who doesn't have to follow the pack to be popular. Together Duff and Muniz make a snappy little onscreen duo. Rounding out the cast is Harmon (formerly of NBC's Law and Order) as Cody's proctor. Harmon obviously saw the humor in this part and ran with it. You'll love her leather outfits and shoulder-pad stuffed cleavage.
Director Harald Zwart's pint-sized secret agent flick is packed with silly but entertaining action sequences. The film starts off on a high as Cody jumps on his skateboard to save a toddler trapped inside a runaway car in a thrilling high-speed rescue. Although Agent Cody Banks has some lively action the storyline is a bit derivative and follows the basic spy formula of good versus evil complete with bald scarred villains seeking to destroy the world for no reason other than to be well evil. The gadgets--an important part of any spy movie--are also basic fare (think suction cup shoes and x-ray vision glasses). But the film is still fun to watch because a) it only runs 96 minutes leaving little time for boredom to set in b) it's got a really likeable cast and c) it doesn't take itself seriously. Zwart who directed the 2001 comedy One Night at McCool's lightens the film with some humorous touches here and there including playing Nelly's "Hot in Herre" whenever Ronica Miles makes a sultry entrance.
Randy (Matt Dillon) is a bartender at a neighborhood dive called McCool's. One night he rescues Jewel (Liv Tyler) from her abusive boyfriend Utah (Andrew 'Dice' Silverstein) unaware that the sultry redhead and her paramour are in cahoots with a plan to rob the joint. Mayhem ensues when Jewel feasts her eyes on Randy and rubs out Utah instead. Randy falls madly in lust with her as does Detective Dehling (John Goodman) called to investigate the murder and Carl (Paul Reiser) a drunken lawyer and Randy's cousin. The story is told from the diverging perspectives of the three men as they pour their hearts out to different confidants in their lives: a hit man a priest and a psychiatrist. Each of the Romeos sees Jewel in a different light. While Carl thinks she's a tramp with powers of seduction Detective Dehling envisions her as a lost soul in need of guidance. Their stories eventually converge to a mutual ending.
The film's cast gives it bragging rights. Liv Tyler really pulls off the role of Jewel a seductive sex kitten who wants nothing more than a nice home with a gold fountain in the dining room. And while Jewel is a manipulative double-dealer without a shred of decency she still elicits compassion with her tacky rag-tag dreams. Matt Dillon is in his element as the doe-eyed bartender with an endearing affection for snow globes. Soft spoken and dimwitted he gives his character multiple dimensions. Another multi-faceted character is the pockmarked bingo-playing hit man with an empathetic streak played by Michael Douglas. Delivering an equally poignant performance as Detective Dehling is John Goodman a cop still grieving over the death of his wife. But a disappointing Reiser brings nothing to a role of Carl a horny lawyer with a leather fetish who is cheesy beyond belief.
Though shooting a multi-perspective film is not a new idea in Hollywood first-time director Herald Zwart does it with humor and originality and without pretension. The three characters' points of views vary visually from one another in terms of lighting lenses and costumes. If Jewel for example is wearing a red dress in Randy's version of events the same red dress is a few inches shorter when told from Carl's perspective who sees her as a sort of vixen to pink and almost matronly when told through Dehling. The camera focus also softens when Jewel is seen through Dehling's eyes though the effect might have been more effective had it been done more subtly. The film starts off strong but lags a bit halfway through only to regain its momentum toward the end. But it is well done over all and does not pretend to be something that it is not.