Agent Cody Banks 2: Destination London

Posted on March 6, 2004 at 2:29 pm

Frankie Muniz returns as junior secret agent Cody Banks in a moderately cute action comedy that will satisfy its target audience of 8-14-year-olds.

Cody is the superstar of the secret CIA training camp for spy kids. He helps the camp director escape in what he thinks is a simulation exercise. But it turns out that it was not a simulation. Diaz has escaped with the CIA’s secret mind control software. Cody has to go undercover as a member of an international classical music group for teens to track him down before he can gain control of the world’s leaders at a meeting in London.

Cody is assigned to work with Derek (Anthony Anderson). They are not very impressed with each other at first. Cody says, “I don’t need a handler,” and Derek responds, “And I don’t need a white Mini Me, but here we are.”

Cody gets an assortment of cool new gadgets, including a retainer wired to permit him to eavesdrop on the bad guys and a package of exploding Mentos mints. And he gets some unexpected help from Derek, who turns out to have some talent as a spy (and a chef), and from a pretty British undercover operative (Hannah Spearritt) as well. In addition to using the gadgets and tracking the bad guys, Cody has to pretend to play the clarinet. When he gets spotted by Diaz, he is used as the guinea pig for the mind control device implanted in his tooth.

The movie does not have anywhere near the imagination and wit of the Spy Kids movies, but it is a pleasantly diverting adventure for a too-often-neglected segment of the audience. Muniz has an appealing screen presence, and if Anthony Anderson is coasting a little bit with his usual shtick, the audience in the screening I attended did not seem to mind one bit. The action sequences are only fair, but there is one scene with a lot of exploding water containers that is a lot of fun.

Parents should know that the movie includes some mild schoolyard language (“screwed up,” “hell,” “haul some ass,” “sucks”) and some potty humor. There is action violence and peril, including a lot of punching and kicking and some explosions, and someone gets hit in the crotch, but no one really gets hurt. A character says that she is “pickled” from cold medicine. A character kisses a girl on the cheek. Some audience members may be uncomfortable when a bad guy tells his wife he is leaving her (she is not upset). A strength of the movie is the way that male and female characters of different races and cultures work together.

Families who see this movie should talk about what Diaz said to Cody: “Trust equals death. Trust nobody — including me.” Why did he say that? How do we know who deserves our trust? What do Cody and Derek learn from one another? Families might like to look at the CIA website, which explains how students can best prepare themselves for a career in the CIA: “Our best advice to you is to do your very best and strive for good grades. Fluency in a foreign language is a good addition. Above all, understand that your choices and behaviors now are a reflection of your personal integrity, character and patriotism.” And they might like to listen to the music played by Cody’s friends, including the Edwin Starr song “War (What is it Good For)” (later covered by Bruce Springsteen) and the William Tell Overture (better known as the theme song to The Lone Ranger). This website explains something about the G8 (formerly the G7), whose meeting in London is a key element of this movie.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy the original Agent Cody Banks and the first two of the Spy Kids movies. They will also enjoy Camp Nowhere, about some kids who fool their parents into thinking they are summer camps with intensive programs for self-improvement when they are really just having fun.

Related Tags:

 

Not specified

Starsky & Hutch

Posted on March 2, 2004 at 7:38 pm

B+
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, smoking, drug use, drug dealer character, drug humor
Violence/ Scariness: Action violence, characters in peril, murder, shooting, knives
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters, bad guy is Jewish
Date Released to Theaters: 2004

This is the latest in the genre I call lunchbox movies. Here is how these movies get made. A 30-something studio executive’s eyes light up when someone suggests a movie based on a cheesy-but-popular 1970’s television show. “I had that lunchbox!” he says. “Do you think we can get the original stars to do a cameo?” All that’s left is to sign up a couple of rising stars and license some oldies for the soundtrack, and we should be good to go.

But it’s trickier than it seems to get the tone right, as the producers of The Avengers and The Mod Squad found out. It has to have both genuine affection for the original and just the right touch of snarky post-modernism. It has to be funny but it also has to keep us engaged enough in the story to keep things moving. This movie gets it right.

Ben Stiller plays Starsky, the play-by-the-rules cop who takes everything very seriously, especially his beloved red Gran Torino with the white vector stripes. He has to try to live up to the standard set by his policewoman mother, but he acts as though he’s following a script. When there’s a shoot-out, Starsky always drops and rolls just a beat before or after it might possibly be necessary and he can’t seem to walk by that cool car without rolling across the hood.

Owen Wilson plays Hutch, the take-it-easy cop whose casual attitude makes him popular with everyone from pretty cheerleaders to cute neighborhood kids to slightly shady informants (including rapper Snoop Dog, the essence of real-life cool as Huggy Bear).

Starsky and Hutch are assigned to work together as punishment by their chief (70’s icon Fred Williamson). And of course at first they do not get along, and of course they then develop grudging respect for each other, and then affection and true partnership.

Cynical observers used to wonder whether the warm friendship between Starsky and Hutch was really deeper than 1970’s television could contemplate. This movie tweaks the idea a little, with the pair stumbling cluelessly through some mildly suggestive situations that feel like a part of its retro vibe.

Vince Vaughn brings his edgy silkiness to the role of the bad guy, a high class drug dealer. Will Ferrell contributes a funny cameo as a prisoner who likes dragons — embroidering them and having men pretend to be them. But the movie is all about the chemistry between Stiller and Wilson, now in their sixth film together, bring out the best in each other. Starsky narrows his eyes intensely as he looks down at a dead body. “You’ve punched your last ticket, amigo.” Hutch peers over at him. “Are you trying to tough talk a dead guy?”

After that, it’s just ringing changes on the most appallingly cheesy aspects of that cheesiest of decades. The soundtrack features “Afternoon Delight,” “I Can’t Smile Without You,” and the hit song by original Hutch David Soul — “Don’t Give Up on Us, Baby.” The clothes are one hilarious “what were we thinking” after another.

S&H go undercover in Easy Rider drag as “Kansas” and “Toto” (you’ll get that if you remember the 1970’s) to question the owner of a biker bar. They interrogate a cheerleader (and are struck speechless when she takes her clothes off). There’s a hilarious disco dance-off. Someone actually says “Sit on it.” And the original Starsky and Hutch show up for a funny cameo.

It’s silly, but it’s a lot of fun. Hmm, speaking of lunchboxes, I wonder if they can get the rights to “Adam 12?”

Parents should know that this movie has very explicit sexual situations and references for a PG-13, including “comic” gay overtones, a threesome (with girls kissing each other), and the swapping of mildly sexual favors for information from an informant. A character accidentally ingests cocaine and his strung-out meltdown is played for humor. Other characters drink and use cocaine (off-camera) and the plot centers on a huge cocaine deal. Characters are in peril. One is killed and a child is injured. There is some strong language, including racist epithets. A strength of the movie is the way that diverse characters work together. Some audience members may be offended by the fact that the villain is Jewish.

Families who see this movie should talk about what made Starsky and Hutch change their minds about each other. Why is it good to have friends who are not just like us? What does it mean to say “To err is human, to forgive divine?” (By the way, contrary to the two mis-attributions in the film, that was said by Alexander Pope.)

Families who enjoy this movie will get a kick out of the fan website for the television series. They might also enjoy other TV-inspired movies like Charlie’s Angels, The Brady Bunch, and SWAT. They should also take a look at the other Stiller/Wilson movies — five so far, including Zoolander, Meet the Parents, and The Royal Tannenbaums (all with some mature material).

Related Tags:

 

Movies

The Girl Next Door

Posted on March 1, 2004 at 6:29 pm

D
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
Profanity: Very strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Underage character drinks, smokes a cigar, and takes ecstasy
Violence/ Scariness: Tense situations, some fighting
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: 2004

This is a romantic fantasy about a straight arrow high school senior who falls for the girl next door, a porn star. That’s not the most offensive part, though. It is a shameless rip-off of the far better Risky Business, even briefly stealing a riff from that movie’s marvelous score by Tangerine Dream. That’s more offensive. But the most offensive aspect of this movie is the stunning stupidity of its script, even by the low standards of teen sex comedies.

Matthew (Emile Hirsch) is just about to get everything he’s been working for. He has successfully raised $25,000 to bring a brilliant Cambodian student to America to study. He’s been accepted to Georgetown and is a finalist for the scholarship that he needs to afford the tuition. Matthew may look longingly at the kids who play hookey and go to the beach, but he can’t even muster a fantasy about going with them; even in his daydreams he gets busted.

Then one night he looks out of his bedroom window and sees a gorgeous girl (Elisha Cuthbert) in the house next door, getting undressed. She sees him peeping and comes over to his house. It turns out she is house-sitting for her aunt. She takes him for a ride and asks him when the last time was that he did something crazy. The next thing he knows, he’s standing naked in the street as she drives away. And soon after that, he and Danielle are playing hookey and crashing a party. All is dewy young love in soft focus until he finds out that she is a porn star. He is disappointed in her. She is disappointed in him because he is disappointed in her. Danielle goes back to Kelly (Timothy Olyphant), the porn producer. Matthew goes after her. Kelly goes after him. The $25,000 disappears. Snobbish bullies must be shown up. And there is still that speech he has to give to win that scholarship.

The porn star as romantic ideal raises the same issues as the many films presenting prostitutes as the leading lady (and as Oscar bait — playing a prostitute is a reliable way to attract the attention of the Motion Picture Academy). But whether the movie is a silly comedy (Trading Places), a romantic comedy (Pretty Woman), a comedy with literary allusions (Mighty Aphrodite), or even a drama (Leaving Las Vegas and Klute), there is something uncomfortably misogynistic about these heroines. They always seem to be impossible fantasy figures, eternally available and unshockable yet somehow ineradicably pure, and, perhaps the ultimate fantasy, having experienced many men but preferring our leading man. In the most cynical manner, this movie smugly attempts to have it both ways. It wants us to be titillated by Danielle’s past and yet root for her innocent romance. It wants us to assume that she is both a woman who is paid to have sex on screen and an angel. The ultimate conclusion is all the more smarmy for trying not to be.

Cuthbert has a warm laugh and a beautiful smile. Olyphant and Hirsch (The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys and The Emperor’s Club) show signs of true screen presence, giving their characters shading and magnetism far beyond the script (and even farther beyond the other performers). It does have a few moments of comedy, a terrific soundtrack of surprisingly well-chosen pop and rock, and even a little charm. But the overall themes are truly vile and the last third of the plot is both vile and stupid.

Parents should know that this movie has explicit sexual references and situations. Many of the main characters work in the pornography industry. While the glimpses of porn video footage are brief and more suggestive than explicit, there are some graphic images and there is a lot of vulgar humor. Characters go to a strip club and get lap dances. Characters also drink and smoke and a character’s inadvertant use of the drug ecstacy is portrayed as humorous. There is some violence, including fights, and characters use very strong language. Parents should also be aware that they may find the overall themes of the movie inappropriate even for older teens, including the idea of the porn star as a fantasy romantic figure.

Families who see this movie should talk about what Matthew and Danielle see in each other and what the prospects for their future relationship are likely to be. What do you think about Matthew’s idea about how to solve his problem?

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy the vastly better (and more authentically ambivalent) Risky Business.

Related Tags:

 

Movies
THE MOVIE MOM® is a registered trademark of Nell Minow. Use of the mark without express consent from Nell Minow constitutes trademark infringement and unfair competition in violation of federal and state laws. All material © Nell Minow 1995-2020, all rights reserved, and no use or republication is permitted without explicit permission. This site hosts Nell Minow’s Movie Mom® archive, with material that originally appeared on Yahoo! Movies, Beliefnet, and other sources. Much of her new material can be found at Rogerebert.com, Huffington Post, and WheretoWatch. Her books include The Movie Mom’s Guide to Family Movies and 101 Must-See Movie Moments, and she can be heard each week on radio stations across the country.

Website Designed by Max LaZebnik