There are two odd things about young-spy actioner “Agent Cody Banks.” The first is that what should work — high-tech gadgetry like Dean Kamen’s Segway human transporters, which here make secret-agent operatives look dorky, and comely young TV actress Hilary Duff, who looks as uncomfortable on the big screen as those Segway riders — does not. The second is that what should not work — the idea of making a James Bond-like action movie for thirteen-year-olds, and casting scrawny Frankie Muniz (“Big Fat Liar”) as that fledgling 007 type — does.
And it does so despite four writers — exactly what are “The People Vs. Larry Flynt” and “Ed Wood’s” Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski doing here? — and five producers, and eight executive producers, including “Seinfeld” comic Jason Alexander and the material girl, Madonna. And that’s because, however doubtful it is that director Harald Zwart (“One Night at McCool’s”) moved to Hollywood from his hometown of Fredrikstad, Norway with making movies like this in mind, he is in tune enough here to know to keep his camera in close and focused on the magic Muniz, who not only seems almost believable as a CIA agent-in-training, assigned to get in touch with a scientist (Tate Donovan) being made to work for a world-domination-prone madman (Ian McShane) by connecting with the scientist’s daughter (Duff), but who with his comfortable assurance and ample charm makes his character of Cody, as a coming-of-age young man, as authentic as the demands of action moviemaking allow. Unlike “Spy Kids,” with which this film will likely be compared, but which had the four-square talents of Antonio Banderas, Carla Gugino and the charismatic kids, Muniz must carry this movie alone — and he’s equal to the task. In fact, it’s only when a big action finale requires Muniz to exit for a stunt double again and again that the movie loses its cohesion.
Studios often proclaim sequel plans right before a film opens, yet it can be a sign of desperation, one memorable effort being that of Warner Bros. promising yet another Joel Schumacher caped-crusader adventure right before the disastrous summer 1997 bow of the “Batman & Robin” that ended the series. Yet with “Agent Cody Banks,” MGM — which could certainly use a hit — seems poised to have every reason to continue with its announced “Cody 2” plans. And perhaps “3”.