The junior James Bond with the “who me?” smile returns for a second, mildly diverting caper in “Agent Cody Banks: Destination London.” Arriving in theaters barely one year after its smarter-than-average predecessor grossed a healthy $48 million domestically (but less than $15 million overseas), sequel, which exports its titular hero from Seattle to Blighty, is clearly being banked on as a franchise for MGM. “Cody” has audience pretty much to himself until the arrival of Disney’s “Home on the Range” on April 2.
As fans will recall, high schooler Cody Banks (Frankie Muniz) was recruited into the elite ranks of the CIA while attending a seemingly ordinary summer camp that was actually a “junior agent” training facility in disguise. New pic opens with 16-year-old Cody back at that locale, only this time as counselor rather than camper.
In a nifty early bit, the arrival of parents’ day occasions the rapid re-assembly of the camp’s placid façade. After the parents leave, the camp is suddenly besieged by helicopters and their unidentified occupants, who seem to be after Cody’s training instructor, Diaz (Keith Allen).
Thinking that it’s a drill, Cody leaps into action, helping Diaz to escape. Later, CIA director (Keith David) informs Cody that it wasn’t a drill but a legitimate attempt to capture Diaz, who has stolen the software for a new mind-control technology.
With the help of oily British villain Kenworth (James Faulkner), Diaz intends to use the technology to (what else?) take over the world. So, it’s off to London, where Cody poses as a clarinet prodigy in a summer music program run by Kenworth’s oblivious wife (Anna Chancellor).
“Destination London” was to have been directed by original helmer Harald Zwart, but the Norwegian helmer reportedly left the project after a budget dispute. He was replaced by Welsh director Kevin Allen (“Twin Town,” “The Big Tease”), but keeps a story credit on pic.
Production retains much of the slick, muscular appearance of the original and benefits enormously from London locations, which serve as frame-filling backdrops for most major scenes. Alas, pic lacks any truly signature set pieces to rank alongside the original’s terrific baby rescue scene.
Awkwardly staged climax monotonously intercuts between a martial arts fight and the music concert that’s being used as a decoy. Likewise, screenplay, credited to three writers (all new), lacks much of the anarchic zing of the first film’s script.
Yet Muniz’s considerable charm keeps things moving along briskly, and there’s more than enough here to keep pic’s target audience engaged.
Most conspicuous revision for “Cody” volume 2 comes in respect to pic’s casting. With the exception of Muniz, David and cameo appearances by Cynthia Stevenson and Daniel Roebuck (as Banks’ parents), entire original ensemble is gone, including teen icon Hilary Duff. She’s been replaced by delightful blond British newcomer Hannah Spearritt (of U.K. pop band S Club 7 fame). Gone too is the sexy Harmon as Cody’s adult CIA “handler,” here replaced with Anthony Anderson as a down-on-his-luck agent who regards his assignment as glorified babysitting duty.
Pic manages to credit a whopping 14 producers, including such unlikely bedfellows as Madonna and “Seinfeld” star Jason Alexander.