Agent Cody Banks

(Harald Zwart, USA, 2003)


Agent Cody Banks is an action-comedy for older children, clearly modelled on the success of Robert Rodriguez’s spirited Spy Kids (2001) series.

There are still many possibilities to be explored in this model, and here director Harald Zwart (One Night at McCool’s [2001]) has a good crack at producing a juvenile James Bond adventure.

Cody (Frankie Muniz) is part of team handpicked by the government to train in secret. So even his parents are surprised when Cody is whisked off to enrol in a plush new school in order to get close to Natalie (Hilary Duff), daughter of Dr Connors (Martin Donovan) whose world-threatening technology has fallen into the wrong hands.

Cody’s big problem is that, while he is great in hand-to-hand combat and at working high-tech gadgets, he is unable to talk to girls. The film has fun with the discrepancy between the action-adventure element and the mundane problems of adolescence. There is also a touch of Austin Powers, suitably cleaned up, in the witty parody of spy stories.

All stories about kids who achieve extravagant success in a dangerous, adult occupation are wish-fulfilment fantasies. They are usually very explicitly so, which is part of their beguiling charm. Openly Freudian questions of the young hero or heroine’s sexuality, played out in the relation to larger-than-life parental figures, are never far below the surface.

Agent Cody Banks works a decent variation on the Back to the Future  films of the ’80s in this regard, by replacing the usual, authoritarian father-figure with an especially gorgeous mother-figure, Ronica (Angie Harmon). Although Ronica has to shield her top half every time Cody wears his X-ray glasses, she is there mainly to ensure that he finds his way to a "normal" teenage attachment.

© Adrian Martin September 2003

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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