Finally rented it. It is not as stupid and embarrassing as the horrible packaging would have you believe. At Hollywood Video, every copy has a typo in the tagline (“Evil is so totaly busted.”). And the back cover has a word balloon making the main girl say “Does this gun make me look fat?” Ugh. Not funny, and not even in the spirit of the movie, really, which does it a great disservice.
D.E.B.S. is a lightweight little movie in which there is some kind of super-secret spy organization called D.E.B.S. They recruit girls through a secret spy aptitude test hidden within the SAT. All the girls wear cute little schoolgirl uniforms and go on missions while attending some kind of D.E.B.S. spy college and living in a sorority-house-style environment. Amy (Sara Foster) is the only one to get a perfect score on the secret test but actually wants to go to art school. On a mission, she encounters young, pretty supervillain Lucy Diamond (Jordana Brewster).
Lucy is actually looking to start dating again, and the D.E.B.S. botched stakeout interrupts her lame blind date with a Russian assassin. But she senses sparks with Amy, so she infiltrates the D.E.B.S. house and forces a date. Amy, who’s just broken up with her boyfriend, starts to fall for Lucy but cuts things off before they go too far.
So Lucy robs a bank to attract the D.E.B.S. (spies respond to bank robberies? I guess when supervillains are involved they do) and captures Amy in order to see her again. After some persuasion and a kiss, Amy goes willingly. A week later the D.E.B.S. track Amy down (after a tip from the Russian assassin, who jealously spots Amy and Lucy on a date) and find her in bed with Lucy.
Amy goes back to the D.E.B.S. and they hatch a plan to cover up Amy’s traitorous love affair. Meanwhile, a dejected Lucy gives up crime (returning stolen bags of money with a note that says "Sorry") to pursue Amy. Eventually they get together.
It’s all very sweet. The film rightly doesn’t take its own premise too seriously. The D.E.B.S. are “spies” and Lucy is a “supervillain” in name only. To make things easy for us, we learn that much of Lucy’s infamy is a matter of misunderstanding (“What about those agents you killed in Antarctica?” “Oh, them? They died of frostbite. I never even saw them.”). She almost does some evil when Amy spurns her and she starts up an evil ray gun (“Australia’s toast.” “What’s your beef with the Australians?” “I don’t like their attitude.”) but her henchman helps her talk over her issues instead.
In fact, it’s so lightweight that it doesn’t really bother with parody, at least not in a jokey sense. I think one reason that critics may have found the film lacking is that it doesn’t really send up the spy genre so much as riff on conventions. But spy parody is as old as Get Smart, and spy movies are practically self-parody by now anyway, so I respect that we can now make movies that riff on spy conventions without laboring to create redundant parodies out of them.
The obvious downside to treating the spy stuff like a kids’ game is that it’s hard to care. The action is pretty lame and the D.E.B.S scenes overall are rather dull. But what the movie cares about is the love story, which in fact is very sweet and actually works quite well.
Sara Foster and Jordana Brewster have good chemistry. As befitting a film actually directed by a lesbian, their love affair is sexy but not cheap and exploitative. Indeed, despite the lesbian-schoolgirl-spy premise, the movie never feels leering and uncomfortably porny like, say, Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle.
Foster does a good job of playing Amy’s conflictedness, but the story gives her little to do besides be conflicted, so she ends up being a very passive protagonist. This doesn’t help the dullness of the D.E.B.S. scenes. Brewster’s Lucy Diamond (license plate: NDASKY) is the active one here, driving the story with her pursuit of Amy.
Some may remember that I had a crush on Jordana Brewster for a little while a few years ago. This movie, featuring her more prominently than any other that I’ve seen, reminds me why. She is sexy and striking, with a smile that makes your knees go weak. You can totally buy that this is a girl who could make you do something stupid. Her acting is good, too—she’s a good listener, always in touch and in the moment with the other actors in the scene. In her going-straight (legally, not sexually) montage, she lip-synchs Erasure’s “A Little Respect,” and it’s adorable. On the commentary Brewster claims that this scene was the hardest thing for her to do in the movie, but she appears totally at ease. As a "villain" rather than a D.E.B., she doesn't appear on the poster/cover, but her role is bigger than every D.E.B. but Amy.
Between D.E.B.S. and Herbie: Fully Loaded, it’s clear that Angela Robinson’s directorial signature is to do several montages per movie using well-chosen ‘80s pop music.
I can see a movie like this playing well at a festival. It’s glossy and well-made, and it’s refreshingly light and unpretentious. Out of a festival, though, its small scale, low budget and thin story is harder to overlook.
But Jordana Brewster makes it worthwhile.