D.E.B.S. written and directed by Angela Robinson, with Sara Foster, Jordana Brewster, Devon Aoki and Meagan Good. 91 minutes. A Sony Screen Gems/Capri release. Opens Friday (March 25). For venues and times, see Movies, page 91. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
Angela Robinson wants to be the next Sam Raimi. That seems like a stretch. What could an African-American dyke best known for her work on Showtime's addictive lesbo soap The L Word possibly have in common with the comic-book-obsessed white dude behind Spider-Man and the Evil Dead series?
But with her first feature, D.E.B.S., a tongue-in-cheeky send-up of Charlie's Angels-style spy blockbusters, glossy teen flicks and sapphic romcoms, opening across North America this week, writer/director Robinson stands to move from art-house icon to studio-sanctioned underdog powerhouse.
"Sam Raimi's supercool cuz he was able to do weirdo indie cultie films when he started out, and moved on to make bigger movies like Spider-Man," explains Robinson, who's remarkably chipper considering it's barely 8 am and she's chatting from the back of a cab en route to a gruelling day of junkets.
"I'm impressed by guys like him or Peter Jackson or even Quentin Tarantino, the true studio auteurs."
D.E.B.S. may not be Robinson's Spider-Man, but it could be her A Simple Plan - a darkly funny comedy with mass-market appeal. Originally produced as a 15-minute short funded by U.S. feminist grant organization Power UP!, the feature has a brilliantly simple premise: a government agency recruits girls to join a top-secret espionage academy according to how they score on shady questions buried within the S.A.T.
Once chosen, the D.E.B.S. (the name stands for Discipline, Energy, Beauty and Strength) learn how to save the world from evil forces while oozing campy sex appeal in schoolgirl uniforms.
There are some great cartoonish action bits, but the film's core is the sweet wrong-side-of-the-tracks romance between master criminal Lucy Diamond (Jordana Brewster) and so-called "perfect D.E.B." Amy (Sara Foster). It stays true to the 2003 short, which was a cult hit on the queer film fest circuit, with one major change: Robinson axed the, er, climactic sex scene between the two ladies.
"I was bummed to take it out," she sighs, "but there's a huge difference between the number of people who see a PG- and an R-rated movie. I was definitely trying to aim for the middle, to make a crossover hit that would reach teenagers without compromising the characters and the love story."
Robinson claims she was surprised by the lack of pressure from distributor Sony Screen Gems to tone down the queer content. Like Marissa's recent fling on The O.C., the girl-meets-girl storyline in D.E.B.S. is treated like just another adolescent romance, which is pretty cool. Could this be the first mainstream teen lesbian flick?
Judging from the warm crowd response at last year's Sundance and Berlin fests (it won the Siegessaule Readers Prize at the latter), it seems likely. D.E.B.S. even won over the family-friendly folks at Disney, who tapped Robinson to direct their next Lindsay Lohan vehicle, Herbie: Fully Loaded after seeing the flick at Sundance.
"They really responded to the girl-power-with-heart thing and wanted me to bring my perspective to it," Robinson says. "I used to love the Herbie movies when I was a kid, and there's a great tomboy angle, although it's more of a reinvention than a remake. Plus," she continues, laughing, "I think they wanted to get some hipster cred in there."
D.E.B.S. (Angela Robinson) Rating: NNN
D.E.B.S. , a funny and twisted spin on spy-babe actioners, asks you to believe that the S.A.T. screens for secret agents who look great in plaid kilts.
As the four central undercover officers-in-training prepare for the big mission thatll let them graduate from D.E.B.S. academy, temptation strikes in the form of Lucy Diamond ( Jordana Brewster ), a brunette baddie who falls head-over-heels for "perfect D.E.B." Amy ( Sara Foster ).
Before you can say "sleeping with the enemy," formerly straight Amys embraced her inner carpet-muncher and the two stage a kidnapping and shack up in Lucys love nest.
The leads have great chemistry, and bit players like Holland Taylor provide deadpan comic turns, but writer/director Robinson, torn between pleasing her core queer fan base and dumbing down the flick for broad appeal, cant quite settle on the right tone.