Agent Cody Banks

Agent Cody Banks (12A)

After the execrable mess that was Die Another Day I thought I’d had it with secret agent movies. It took a child to convince me that I was wrong, and that action, stunts and death-defying feats of derring-do are more palatable, more believable and far more acceptable when it’s a 13-year-old kid doing the honours.

Such is the premise of Agent Cody Banks, in which TV’s Malcolm in the Middle (Frankie Muniz) is the titular Master Banks – a tongue-tied American adolescent who is also secretly one of America’s best spooks. He can’t talk to girls but he can control a runaway car while on his skateboard and save the baby trapped inside. It’s all in a day’s work for Cody.

So when he’s ordered to get close to the daughter of a megalomaniac businessman (teen sensation Hilary Duff) with his heart set on some nefarious scheme, Cody has to learn the ways of the suave professionals from whom he takes his lead – otherwise how can he get his feet out of his mouth to talk to the villain’s beautiful daughter?

Agent Cody Banks takes the tried-and-trusted concept of the Bond movie and reworks it completely and triumphantly. This is far, far better than Die Another Day – less pretentious, much more fun and winningly free of 40 years of history, cloying tradition and baggage.

This could be On Her Majesty’s Secret Service played by children – a near classic in the vein of Bugsy Malone. Certainly it tries hard and succeeds 90 per cent of the time. Boasting spectacular stuntwork – including a snow slide straight down a mountain peak – that wouldn’t be out of place in a Bond epic Agent Cody Banks dispenses with attempts at believability and instead offers a rip-roaring blend of action, high drama and juvenile humour and romance.

Muniz, so good as the boy hero of My Dog Skip, here repeats his winning brand of golly-gosh innocence blended with the pinch-me realism of a kid who can’t believe his luck.

While some gags will go over kids’ heads – check out Cody’s fascination with the cavernous cleavage of his adult mentor, Ronica Miles (the statuesque Angie Harmon) – the humour is, essentially, straight out of a Hanna-Barbera cartoon. Some of the fights are reminiscent of the beatings doled out in Tom and Jerry – rough, tough and mean-spirited, with no quarter given. It combines the wacky gadgetry of Cats and Dogs with the good-natures charm of Spy Kids. Youngsters will lap it up.

Agent Cody Banks has restored my faith in spy movies. It is, quite simply, a fabulous family film.

Move over 007 – there’s a new kid on the block.

Star rating: ****

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