Dishy Amy (Sara Foster), dynamic Max (Meagan Good), ditzy Janet (Jill Ritchie) and downright spooky Dominique (Devon Aoki) are D.E.B.S, a crack squad of miniskirted schoolgirl spies, out to nab international super-criminal Lucy Diamond (Jordana Brewster). Amy is the agency’s golden girl, a perfect spy, but ill at ease. Trailing Diamond to a swanky nightclub, a shootout flares between the D.E.B.S and Russian mobster Ninotchka (Jessica Caulfiel) – Lucy’s blind date! Caught in the crossfire, Lucy and Amy fall madly in love. They begin a secret affair, while kind-hearted Janet becomes Amy’s sole confidante. The other D.E.B.S stumble upon the lesbian liaison and shun poor Amy, while agency chiefs (Holland Taylor and Michael Clarke Duncan) forcibly pair her with a CIA hunk (Geoff Stults). But lovelorn Lucy goes all-out to win back her girl.
D.E.B.S was a hit at the Sundance Film Festival, but on wide release somehow managed to rub American critics the wrong way, featuring in many “worst of the year” lists. Hard to understand why, because as a spy spoof, teen flick, and lesbian love story it’s smart, snappy and eager to please. Accusations of ‘lipstick lesbianism’ may hold water. The premise itself and those Catholic schoolgirl outfits are established male fantasies, while the camera adoringly admires voluptuous Good and lovely Foster’s long, suntanned legs. However, writer-director Angela Robinson subverts spy movie and John Hughes teen flick conventions, to make telling points about high school cliques, peer pressure and prejudice. Not every gag hits its target and Aoki’s bizarrely accented, French minx is surreal for all the wrong reasons, but much of what works here is very clever. Particularly, the stakeout that leaves our heroine in the cold, and the heartbreaking revelation that Amy is the perfect spy because her whole life is one big lie. Foster and Brewster are an engaging screen couple (Foster proves especially vivacious company on the girls’ engaging DVD commentary), but Ritchie’s comic timing often steals the show. Janet even gets her own budding romance with Lucy’s henchman Scud (Jimmi Simpson).
Robinson’s skill as an editor ensures the action sequences are peppy and inventive. She and cinematographer M. David Mullen opt for a sunny, appealing colour palette reminiscent of a Disney movie (Robinson went on to direct Herbie: Fully Loaded (2006)), while the production team works wonders with a low budget, making D.E.B.S. more entertaining than the bloated Charlie’s Angels films. A bouncy soundtrack tickles the ears, particularly during a fun montage with Lucy playing every romantic trick in the book to win Amy back. Brewster and Simpson’s priceless lip-synching compensates for the gratuitous use of dreary Erasure. Ultimately, D.E.B.S. is a very girly movie, and one means that as a compliment, a sweet-natured hymn to friendship, tolerance and self-acceptance. A screening at the London Film Festival drew hearty applause (from an audience mostly of teenaged girls), which suggests British viewers might be more receptive to its charms.