-MONTHLY VHS & DVD REVIEW-
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
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
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
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
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.