(PG) 2 stars
Funny how, sooner or later, retro comes back on itself. Agent Cody Banks is a teen superspy comedy that echoes the 1960s with its high-tech mountain lairs and outrageous technology. This vision of an antiseptic future, where iPods, sleek cell phones and Avengers-inspired wardrobes are in abundance, looks almost quaint.
Frankie Muniz stars as 16-year-old Cody Banks, a member of an elite underground network of teen-age CIA agents. Under the watchful eye of his handler Veronica (Angie Harmon in full Diana Rigg mode), he's assigned to get close to a scientist's daughter (Hilary Duff) and investigate a plot to unleash metal-eating nanobots on the military.
The biggest flaw in the film is a slavish devotion to form, in both the teen comedy and spy genres. It tries to be Spy Kids by way of XXX and falls far short of either (the structure is so derivative of XXX it even ends on the exact same shot). This is most annoying in the teen-comedy sequences, where you can practically set your watch by the appearances of the Preppy Kids Hazing the New Guy, Teacher From Hell and The (Many) Parts Where the Hero Embarrasses Himself In Front of the Girl. None of these scenes exist for any better reason than that they've been in every other cheap teen movie ever made, so the writers felt compelled to dump them in here.
The spy stuff is vintage James Bond, with jumpsuit-clad minions, and a final fight with the henchmen amidst an exploding mountain base. The villainous group is named E.R.I.S., presumably after the goddess of chaos, which suggests interesting motivational paths - never explored. Even the bad guys in the subtlety-free XXX had some kind of postmodern philosophy behind them; our villains here are out to destroy the world, er, just because.
Since we're painting-by-numbers here, the real question isn't whether the story is any good, but whether the characters populating it keep our interest. In that regard the movie works out pretty well. Muniz's overall charisma carries him through a number of otherwise preposterous situations, and Harmon hits all her notes as the untouchable sexpot superspy. Arnold Vosloo (The Mummy) and Keith "Gruffest Man Alive" David seem to be enjoying the chance to cut loose as lead henchman and harried CIA chief, respectively.
Everyone making the movie is having loads of fun, like a bunch of serious actors doing a long improv bit at summer acting camp. The whole thing is sometimes inspired, but often weary, and ultimately forgettable.