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D.E.B.S.
cast: Jordana Brewster, Sara Foster, Meagan Good, Devon Aoki, and Jill Ritchie

writer and director: Angela Robinson

88 minutes (12) 2004
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Sony DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 8/10
reviewed by Jeff Young
Four sexy college girls are working in secret for a US government agency (one with bosses who delight in dirt-digging rivalry against and between themselves, the CIA, and Homeland Security) but their neurotic, psychotic, or erotic private lives have a tendency to interfere with missions, especially when one D.E.B.S. girl is kidnapped by a criminal mastermind...

This really is great fun. A feature-length version of a 2003 short film, made by the same writer-director, it is a very clever satire on cheerfully low-budget espionage movies, a slick teen adventure with a bevy of young lovelies and, most surprisingly, a curiously affecting and wholesomely non-exploitative lesbian romance. The line-up of D.E.B.S.' starlets benefits from some astute casting. Tall blonde Sara Foster is wonderful as Amy, the D.E.B.S.' squad leader with a 'perfect score' in the covert recruiting process that's hidden in the education system's annual SAT tests (well, every 'spy game' flick needs an un-provable conspiracy, right?). Meagan Good is spot-on as tough-talking gun-toting Max, Jill Ritchie is fine as the slightly gawky and emotionally insecure Janet, and Eurasian babe Devon Aoki (memorable as the deadly Miho in Robert Rodriguez' ultra-violent, Sin City, and more recently seen in Corey Yuen's video-game adaptation about kung fu chicks, DOA: Dead Or Alive) is frequently hilarious as French sex-maniac Dominique.

The clincher to this movie's appeal is Jordana Brewster (The Faculty, The Invisible Circus) as 'super-villainess' and the D.E.B.S.' nemesis, Lucy Diamond, supposedly expert poisoner, international terrorist, and thief extraordinaire. With her sidekick, Scud (Jimmi Simpson), she's a scourge of the world's intelligence community, and D.E.B.S. chiefs Mrs Petrie and Mr Phipps (Holland Taylor, Michael Clarke Duncan, respectively) would enjoy making "Lisa at Interpol" insanely jealous, by instructing their finest team of plaid-skirted schoolgirls to find and arrest the elusive Diamond. But the reclusive Lucy's biggest secret isn't the location of her underground lair. It's that she desperately needs to get out more, and has great difficulty finding new true love.

While Amy breaks up with boyfriend Bobby (Geoff Stults) during a stakeout in the rafters of a restaurant, D.E.B.S. swings through amusing surveillance routines like a cross between Brian De Palma's Mission: Impossible, and spy-spoof Top Secret. But there's a lot more to Angela Robinson's debut feature than just action heroics, and/or irreverent farce. Although Robinson went on to direct Disney's Herbie Fully Loaded, there's a keen sense that D.E.B.S. is a rather more personal work, sorority house lesbianism, not being especially compatible with your typical family viewing, of course. There's something other than just blandly professional efficiency present in Robinson's D.E.B.S. movie. Many of its scenes have the distinctive atmosphere of standard teenage romantic comedy, but the principal characters are all female. This is not your basic sexploitation movie; so don't expect to find any softcore titillation here. And yet, its 12-certificate harmlessness (noticeably, the sleeve blurb of this Sony DVD neglects to mention the movie's lesbian angle, at all), and blithely girls-with-guns appointed packaging veils a nonetheless poignant little drama about (mildly) lesbian sexuality that's just as provocative, albeit in a resolutely understated way, as cinema and TV, tackling similar themes, for mature viewers only. In the wake of television's Buffy, and Alias, the extremely witty D.E.B.S. is possibly the next post-feminist 'big shiny thing'.

Above all, though, and it's parodic tone notwithstanding, D.E.B.S. is an amazingly well-accomplished balancing act between a distaff entry to the growing Agent Cody Banks and Stormbreaker cycle of light-hearted teen action, a breakthrough in lesbian 'relationships' drama that's amusing without a hint of exploitation, and the sort of energetic adventuring epitomised by Charlie's Angels. But, here, the biggest surprise is that D.E.B.S. works almost perfectly in its every aspect (graceful comic timing, deliriously wacky humour, and a deconstructionist approach to 'rom-com' clichés), while the absurdly OTT big screen outings for Charlie's Angels just failed to entertain, as hoped for. Simply put, D.E.B.S. succeeds by not taking itself too seriously, while Charlie's Angels was a disaster because it didn't take anything seriously, especially the vast budget it ineptly squandered on unfunny action sequences, and boringly pointless CGI sight-gags.

DVD extras include: typical making-of, behind-the-scenes (Infiltrating D.E.B.S.), and visual effects (D.E.B.S. Animatic) featurettes, deleted scenes, an informative director's commentary plus a rather noisy cast commentary, a photo gallery, and the music video of Into The Morning by The Weekend.
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