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James Bond Junior

His secret agent training covered everything _ how to make a dare-devilish escape from the most menacing of situations, how to use the most sophisticated technological gadgets in the field, and how to use his cunning and ingenuity to deceive the most devious criminals.

Is this Mission Impossible: 3, or the newest Bond flick, or maybe a new installment of Spy Kids? Guess again. This time, it's Agent Cody Banks hitting the big screen. The foundation for its plot is commonplace, but this time it's done up with familiar and popular teenage faces _ a chronological bridge of sorts between Spy Kids and the forever popular Bond films.

Cody Banks (Frankie Muniz) is the 15-year-old son of two middle-class parents living a normal life in suburban Seattle. A couple of years earlier, Cody had attended a summer camp that, unknown to his parents, was actually a training camp for an experimental CIA young agents program. Now that a situation has arisen involving a scientist with a 15-year-old daughter, Cody is called into action.

After having developed a micro-organism that can eat through even the strongest substances, the scientist, Dr. Martin Connors (Martin Donovan), is being used by a sect of power-hungry villains. Their plan is to use the substance to render completely useless the warheads in the United States' weapons arsenal. Cody's mission is simple _ to befriend Natalie Connors (Hilary Duff) to acquire data needed to thwart the terrorist plot.

Obviously, this storyline is nothing new to movie audiences, but I liked the casting of fresh faces here. Everybody loves 17-year-old Muniz for his role as Malcolm in the hit Fox sitcom, Malcolm in the Middle. His boyishness and animated screen presence are endearing and attractive to the targeted preteen audience. He truly looks the part, and he handles the role with finesse.

Duff has made a name for herself with her Disney Channel show, Lizzie McGuire, rating high on the popularity charts. She fits into her role comfortably, and her presence on the big screen is likely to continue.

The on-screen chemistry of Muniz and Duff is about as good as it gets in a spy movie.

The humor was goofy at best _ beating up bullies with CIA fighting techniques and kicking the bad guy where it counts was about as deep as it got. There weren't too many instances where the audience laughed wildly, but there were plenty of things to snicker at. The film's most entertaining aspect is the numerous subtle allusions to Bond movies. "Will the driver of the silver Aston Martin . . ." _ Hmm, that sure rings a bell.

The scene in the lab where Cody receives all his new gadgets was too reminiscent of a meeting in the underground Bond lair between Q and James. Angie Harmon's character of Banks' trainer, Ronica Miles, fits the Bond-girl mold like a glove. These throwbacks provided a pleasant nostalgia, and that's a plus for Bond fans of any age.

Since the humor in this film is a bit more adult than one would find in Spy Kids but not as blatantly sexual as in a Bond movie, Agent Cody Banks has certainly found itself a niche between the two. A sequel is almost a sure bet.

Billy Norris, 15, writes movie reviews for the Xpress kids' page, which appears each Mondays in Floridian.

PREVIEW

Agent Cody Banks

Grade: B

Director: Harald Zwart

Cast: Frankie Muniz, Hilary Duff, Angie Harmon, Keith David, Daniel Roebuck, Cynthia Stevenson, Arnold Vosloo, Ian McShane

Screenplay: Zack Stentz, Ashley Miller, Scott Alexander, Larry Karaszewski

Rating: PG for action violence, mild language and some sensual content.

Running time: 110 min.

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