‘Banks 2’ suffers helmer withdrawl

Budget issues blamed for Zwart's exit

MGM won’t be able to bank on the director of “Agent Cody Banks” for round two of its budding spy-kid franchise.

Harald Zwart says he’s pulling out “Agent Cody Banks 2” over matters of, well, bank.

“I have quit the project because of budgetary disagreements between myself and the studio,” Zwart told a Norwegian newspaper while on vacation. “I will let someone else do the job of making a sequel.”

MGM is eyeing two or three other directors and hopes to announce a replacement by week’s end.

Zwart said MGM has budgeted the sequel, which again stars TV teen titan Frankie Muniz in the lead as a high school-aged spy, for $26 million. That’s a jump of only $1 million from the cost of the original, which debuted in March and has grossed $42.5 million domestically through last weekend.

MGM execs disputed Zwart’s figures, saying that twice they had bumped up the pic’s budget during negotiations to meet his expectations. The proposed budget had moved north of $30 million, with the price rising moderately, as often happens with sequels.

“It’s a mystery to us why he’s leaving,” studio prexy Michael Nathanson said. “We thought we were making things work to make him a happy director. And then he chose to leave.”

MGM hopes to turn the “Cody Banks” property into a pint-sized Bond franchise, and wasted little time after the film’s mid-March debut to order the sequel, with Zwart and Muniz already under contract. The original also starred another hot teen star, Hilary Duff, and Angie Harmon. The film is part of a broader strategy by the company to make less-expensive films that can appeal to younger and niche auds.

Zwart’s withdrawal marks the second time in a month the director of a budding Lion franchise has opted out of working on a sequel. “Barbershop” helmer Tim Story decided he wanted to try a different kind of project than last fall’s ensemble comedy.

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