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AGENT CODY BANKS: DESTINATION LONDON
Directed by Kevin Allen
MGM, in release

After the Spy Kids franchise, Catch That Kid, and the first Agent Cody Banks, this moppet-with-a-license-to-kill craze is getting old, as is Frankie Muniz, who mugs his way through this hastily assembled sequel like it's his last stop on the way to Dickie Roberts's poker table. Undercover with an "international youth orchestra" rehearsing to play for Queen Elizabeth (where's Frank Drebin when you need him?), Cody is actually spying on the bandleader's husband, a British socialite conspiring with an American double agent to perfect a mind-control device. It's hard to despise a movie with the balls to posit that its Blair-look-alike PM has been brainwashed by a corrupt CIA operative, but Banks 2is really pretty hateful, shooting for the bulk of its laughs at the expense of those wacky foreign kids and the endlessly humiliated Anthony Anderson, saddled with a Stepin Fetchit role as Cody's "handler." BEN KENIGSBERG


TAKING LIVES
by D.J. Caruso
Warner Bros.
Opens March 19

Illeana Scott (Angelina Jolie) is an FBI agent whose unorthodox talents for detection precede her. In glossy Montreal, she tries to get the lowdown on some nut job who kills pretty blond guys and dons their personalities. After getting chummy with photographs of the killer's victims, Jolie's heretic bone collector likens the film's elusive psychopath to a hermit crab (so the tittie-obsessed boys on the police force will understand his pathology) but barely implies the sexual element of his crimes (he's gay, ostensibly because his victims are "strangled from behind"). Opening with a Grand Guignol-like ritual of homo initiation (the film's burgeoning killer and the dreamy loner he picks up dutifully confound each other's notions of a "first-time" experience), Taking Lives more or less envisions what life was like for Norman Bates before he killed and stuffed his mother—here embodied by the ever glorious Gena Rowlands, whose character brings to mind Mary Tyler Moore's badass mama from Ordinary People.

Director D.J. Caruso tries his damnedest to suppress the gay subtext that repeatedly threatens to bust the film wide open, and in the end merely trivializes it: Illeana's seemingly bionic eyes pick up on "queer" movements, but Caruso seems oblivious to the fact that she's using her gaydar as a form of profiling. Once domesticated and challenged by the cast of male eye candy (a perpetually clothed Olivier Martinez and a ludicrous Ethan Hawke), a dependably resilient Jolie spends the latter half of the film tweaking her powers of observation and trying to restore her character's feminist foothold. If the Naqoyqatsi-lite score by Philip Glass doesn't exactly make sense of the film's sketchy identity politics, it does complement its utter ridiculousness. Look no further than the dramatic unveiling of Jolie's right breast during a crucial love scene. The timing is perfect: It pops out just as you're ready to check out. ED GONZALEZ

 
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