New spy kid on the block

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At last, an action picture not aimed entirely at 14-year-old boys! "Agent Cody Banks" should thrill 15-year-old boys, too. And if some of them take their girlfriends, the box office could sizzle.

That doesn't help the rest of us, but fortunately "Agent Cody Banks" isn't the only game in town. Hollywood has been broadening its appeal to diverse demographics lately - upping production of family films, for instance, and aiming more at grown-ups with movies like "Adaptation" and "The Hours."

Teens remain a target of choice, though, with their fondness for seeing movies more than once and their susceptibility to TV and Internet marketing campaigns.

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The lure of their disposable dollars is the main engine driving theme-park productions such as the "Harry Potter" and "Lord of the Rings" movies. "Agent Cody Banks" is a smaller-scaled, more relentlessly adolescent entry in the same overall sweepstakes.

The hero is an ordinary high-schooler who becomes a junior James Bond when the CIA recruits him for an assignment only a Hollywood story conference could dream up: dating a pretty girl so he can spy on her father, an evil scientist whose schemes could destroy the world.

The problem is that Cody is no Romeo, and making him cool with girls is a challenge that stumps the government's best brains. Other characters include his mentor, a sexy agent straight from the 007 tradition, and his amiable parents, who have no idea of the espio- nage escapades going on under their noses.

The filmmakers have recruited a name-brand cast for this fluffy stuff.

Young movie and TV veteran Frankie Muniz, of "Malcolm in the Middle" fame, plays Cody with admirable energy if not much flair. Support comes from Hilary Duff, star of Disney sitcom "Lizzie McGuire," and Angie Harmon of the "Law & Order" series. Keith David plays the CIA chief, and Cynthia Stevenson is perky as Cody's long-suffering mom.

Acting talent is beside the point, though, since the repetitious script - cobbled together by no fewer than five writers - shows interest in nothing beyond action-centered plot gimmicks and tame romantic shenanigans.

I had hoped for something a tad more inventive from director Harald Zwart ("One Night at McCool's"), not to mention Michael Douglas with the most hilariously awful haircut of his career.

But here he's at the mercy of his material, and the material is uninspired by anything except the success of the "Spy Kids" franchise. I'm sure it will earn a small fortune in its first weekend or two, and be on DVD counters everywhere in plenty of time for summer vacation.

Rated PG; contains action-movie violence and sexual references.

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