Fifteen-year-old Cody Banks (Frankie Muniz), when not happily skateboarding around idyllic Seattle, is a very junior undercover agent for the CIA. Under the tutelage of his sexy superior, Agent Ronica Miles (Angie Harmon), he must try to get close to Natalie Connors (Hilary Duff), the daughter of an eccentric scientist (Martin Donovan) whose nanotech robot invention is about to fall into the hands of diabolical villains bent on world destruction. Cody's big problem is that, while adept at martial arts and high-speed driving, he simply cannot talk to girls.

With a crew of smooth professionals behind the camera, Agent Cody Banks is one of the more satisfying youth romps in recent memory. It's actually superior to the recent James Bonds in its overall freshness and technical expertise. Cody is blissfully accoutered with an impressive arsenal of high-tech toys: a red Ferrari for mere tooling about; the Silver Volt, an even snazzier electric car; the Snow Hawk, which is like a supersonic dirt bike for the winter, and, most awesome of all, the Solotrek XFV, a one-man vertical flying machine. Photographed in the dazzlingly snowy mountains of British Columbia, the film has an exhilarating look which adds vigor to the formulaic screenplay (by no fewer than four writers). And a skilled cast makes the most of their cartoon characters' comic opportunities.

TV favorite Muniz has a bright, underdog charm that recalls the young Mickey Rooney, who, it might be remembered, once ruled the box office for an impressive period of time. Harmon, dressed like a Versace supermodel and looking like a lucky cross between Ali MacGraw and Raquel Welch, evinces a no-nonsense comic style along with her considerable physical attributes (which are amusingly touched upon, in the course of things). Duff has a sweet-yet-strong quality, and her healthy, fuller figure is a salutary example for young female moviegoers, beset with too many media examples of sullen female bulimics. Darrell Hammond is hilarious as a CIA guy who gives Cody all manner of unusable dating advice. ("Women are like cow chips: The older they get, the easier they are to pick up.") Donovan, Daniel Roebuck (who's turned into Eddie Bracken) as Cody's ineffectual Dad, Keith David as a pompous CIA boss, and Ian McShane as a stereotypically swishy Brit villain are perfectly cast.

--David Noh