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Malcolm in the Middle has achieved almost cult status here in the UK and is doing very well in the US and this has led to a lot of interest in the star of the show, Frankie Muniz. Now he has been lucky to get to do what we all would love – to play at secret agent. No matter what you say, James Bond is cool and getting to be him on the big screen would be like a dream come true. However, Muniz is still a little young for proper action so MGM have cast him as Cody Banks, a CIA kid agent.

Agent Cody Banks

The Film
All secret agent films have to open with a big scene to get the pulses racing. It’s the law. Agent Cody Banks is no different, albeit on a smaller scale. A teenager by day going to school with girl problems, he was sent to a summer camp for the brightest young individuals however this was really a camp run by the CIA and allowed them to recruit and train new agents. He gets pulled out of basket ball practise by an incredible hot female agent and taken to CIA Headquarters where he is kitted out with some neat spy gear including x-ray specs and a tazer-style watch. His mission is to get close to another 15 year old – Natalie Connors played by Hilary Duff (Lizzie McGuire) who’s father is a brilliant scientist. He has developed a form of nanobot that will systematically eat whatever it is programmed to do. Originally designed to eat oil to protect the environment from tanker spills, an evil baddie (Ian McShane – Lovejoy) gets hold of him and forces him to program the bots to eat metal which will enable him to destroy the world’s computers and communication equipment.

All sounds simple but there is a problem – Cody cannot talk to girls without stuttering, getting nervous and saying something stupid. The CIA has a problem. However with some training in how to talk to girls and he is off. He is invited to her birthday party which he drives a Ferrari to. A bit flash! His absurd skateboard and mp3 player accompany him which both have special spy uses, and he also takes his x-ray specs which are every kid’s fantasy. An excuse later and he has left the party and managed to infiltrate the enemy’s secret base and continue his mission. It is all fairly standard stuff with bumbling enemy sidekicks being beaten up by the karate champion spy kid. The gadgets are a little weak and have for the most been done before – ok the skateboard was a little original. Cody is chaperoned by the stunning Ronica Miles played by Angie Harman who has some amusing lines in the film and overall it holds together well. One part I did have a problem with was where an Asian driving instructor is shouting at Cody – it was all very Breakfast at Tiffany’s and I think that sort of “humour” isn’t really needed in a film like this.

Effects, while reasonably good are still only average by today’s standards and the predictable storyline will not be something anyone over the age of about 13 will want to follow. It is not a bad film; it is just not a good one however I would imagine younger kids will be quite into this film. It seems to be slightly lost in that it is too young to appeal to the older teen audience, and probably a little too old for some of the young kids (with a few sexual references) so it fails to fall into either the James Bond or the Spy Kids brackets.

Agent Cody Banks

Video
Presented in 2.35:1 and enhanced for 16x9 screens, this transfer is as expected for a film of this budget - nothing to write home about, but also nothing excessively wrong. The contrast level is possibly a touch too high with blacks being so dark in places, definition is lost and the colours are a little flat overall. From the extras it was clear to see how much of the film was digitally graded and so perhaps this plays a part here (whether all films are treated this way in this day and age is unknown to me) but this does not stop it being a very average looking DVD. That is not to say that is a bad thing. A lot of people seem to think that seven out of ten is a low score but it is not. The print is for the most dust free and therefore very clean. It is certainly good enough for the market this film is being sold to – possibly too good as younger viewers will not appreciate the dirt free transfer as much as older more critical viewers.

Audio
As with the video, this is again very average but with the standard of today’s DVDs being so high, ‘average’ can be a good thing. The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is not perhaps pushed as hard as it could have been especially given the nature of the film – spies and explosions! The score is used regularly throughout the film and this populates the surround speakers however I couldn’t help wondering why the level of some of the explosions and other mayhem was not a little more defined for rear speaker action. Bass levels are however adequate and I assume not too long was spent on the surround track since the target audience (kids) are not likely to have their own surround system, but are likely to have a DVD player these days (I saw one for £30 the other day – incredible!). The Polish soundtrack is hilarious. It is just someone (a man with a deep voice) translating all the parts at once the whilst the original soundtrack (complete with voices) plays underneath - totally bizarre.

Extras
First on the extras list is the featurette Developing Agent Cody Banks. This is an four minute fifty one second presentation which talks about firstly, the casting. Frankie was already onboard and so it was a case of building the rest of the cast around him. It’s a bit of a childish look at stuff with people having drawn in “thought bubbles” and descriptions of what certain “movie” words mean such as “location” (duh). It may run for nearly five minutes minutes, but from three and a half minutes onwards, it is just credits. Creating Cody’s World is broken into two areas. The first is Production Design which talks about the themes used in creating the production and how certain gadgets (namely the flying gizmo) were discovered and implemented for film use. Believe it or not, the War Room from Dr.Strangelove was the inspiration for the CIA War Room in the film. The various IPOD designs they created were quite interesting – Apple – take note! This is a short snappy feature which reveals a little bit of information about a lot of different things from room design to gadgets to other tech toys in the film. Again, the six minute fifteen second film includes over a minute of credits. Well done MGM. Ronica’s Closet (amusing play on words there) talks about the spy themes in the film as well as the costumes in the film worn by Angie Harmon as well as other stars in the film. It was highly amusing to see that Harmon’s double for the dojo karate was a guy, who had to have long hair and breasts so he could double for her. More absurd credits follow to end this three minute and fifty second film.

Agent Cody Banks

Posting Cody Banks again is broken into two features. First up is Cool Cody Special Effects explains how some of the physical and visual effects were achieved including removing the wire supporting the lady doubling for Frankie in the scene where he walks on the ceiling. Again this is very short and sharp and shallow and talks about several effects in very little detail. It’s not a worthless feature at six minutes but it is certainly not long enough to generate much interest in an older viewer. The thing that interested me the most was how much colour grading gets done to film these days. Again hours and hours of credits follow (starting to get a little sick of that). The Music of Agent Cody Banks talks with John Powel (composer of Chicken Run), the films director and actor Frankie Muniz (amongst others) about the scoring, the value of the music in film and how the director interfaces with the composer. I do not need to be explained to what a kazoo is (as you can guess all these features are aimed at a younger audience). Credits follow – I am not going to mention them again. Four and a half minutes total run time.

Next is the Audio Commentary with Harald Zwart, Frankie Muniz and Angie Harmon. Angie is not present at the start of the track. A few gems are revealed here including Muniz exclamations “That’s me” and “White men can jump!”. It’s a very light heated look at how they made the film. Harmon joins the commentary whilst they are talking about the opening car chase scene. It surprised me that a track exists to be honest as I find generally only adults want to listen to these, and why they would want to listen to one on a kids film is a little beyond me. The director rarely lets it get too quiet delivering useful information here and there whilst Frankie and Angie joke around (particularly Angie actually!)

Director’s Diary is an twelve and a half minute feature with director Harald Zwart talking about his vision for the film including his passion for creating visual references for this film even at an early stage. Some of his ideas were used almost exactly which shows what vision you have to have, to direct a film. It is a little scary to see some of the ideas and so see how little they changed from his first concept. Certainly the best extra so far as the director is obviously into DVDs and enjoyed providing all these features – particularly this one.

Storyboard to Film Comparisons is split into two sections. A very standard DVD feature showing the sketched storyboards against the finished film – this shows off the Skateboard Chase and the Eris Finale. Multi Camera Sequences is a three section feature allowing the user to change the angle during each scene using the ANGLE button on the remote control. The scenes are Eris Stunts, Kitchen Fight and Dojo. The first is accompanied with a commentary track. It is also possible to watch a screen with all the angles present on screen at once as well as the final film.

Agent in Training starts out with the skateboard chase filmed using a plastic car and a plastic (Anakin Skywalker looking) figure. Then the assistant producer eats the figure. This then follows onto Frankie on a skateboard strapped to the front of the car, in real life. The car’s driver drove it from the boot lying down on his stomach. A very impressive setup. This has a seven and a half minute runtime.

Agent Action is introduced by producer David Nicksay who talks about all the action sequences in the film. Muniz had only sixteen days training for his martial arts training which is fairly impressive although the time spent on this part is short indeed, as is the section on the three different cars used for the driving lesson scenes, and the section on the snow mobile. This progresses to a look at some of the other gadgets including a quick look at the famous “cowboy switch” and ends with a look at some more fighting followed by endless credits.

How To Talk to Girls shows the cast and crew of the film giving their opinions and advice on how Cody should talk to girls. A very short feature but fairly amusing. Cool Make Up Tricks by Hilary Duff is some stuff about makeup. If you think I watched that, you’ve got another thing coming (it only runs for a minute and a half anyway). Cast Read Through is the principle actors sitting in a huge room reading the script all the way through to make sure it gels together and to give the crew an idea of how it all sounds before filming starts. This is a good feature as it does help to show how much work does have to go into a film before it even starts filming – four and a half minutes, including credits.

Agent Cody Banks

There are six deleted scenes which can be accessed individually or played all together. There is no commentary available for these however the scenes are cut together with final footage showing where the scenes would have fitted in if they had been included. Not a bad selection of scenes which I assume were just cut for time restrictions from the final film. Total running time is eleven minutes. The Outtakes section is a selection of scenes where the actors get their lines wrong or mess things up. Ian McShane’s response to Hilary Duff is good for a laugh. Total running time is a little over three minutes. Finally we have two photo galleries - Behind the Scenes and The Cast which are presented in slideshow format with a new frame every two seconds and a theatrical trailer.

Overall
So, a pretty impressive package particularly since it all fits on one disc (including more minutes of credits than I can count!) from MGM here. Reasonable video and audio presentation with a host of extras which are aimed primarily at a younger audience make this a decent DVD however it constantly seems lost at who it is aiming itself at. However if you are a fan of the film then I think the extra features will appeal to you. Make way for Agent Cody Banks 2, now in production.

Please note this disc is encoded for Regions 2 and 4 and therefore I think we can assume our cousins in Australia will be getting an identical package.



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