Saturday, April 23, 2011

Some 'spect 4 D.E.B.S.

At a tone-defining juncture, raven-haired arch villainess Lucy Diamond (Jordana Brewster) is so overtaken with passion for blond superspy Amy (Sara Foster) that she’s compelled to kareoke her way through the entirety of Erasure’s 80s electro-camp classic, “A Little Respect”. And that pretty much sums up the cockeyed appeal of D.E.B.S.: Uncontrollably goofy, smart but not too, and most of all, cute, adorable even.

While the tagline leers, “They're crime-fighting hotties with killer bodies!” writer/director Angela Robinson’s film is a knockabout milestone of another sort—the first lesbian action comedy.

Robinson’s lark was shot in candy-colored 24P video on a low budget--a good deal of which must have been spent on clearances for it’s cool-kid hit parade of cuts by The Cure, Death in Vegas, Goldfrapp, and New Order. It revolves around the neat conceit that, hidden in SATs, is a secret recruiting code for rooting out future members of the D.E.B.S. (“Discipline. Energy. Beauty. Strength.”) spy team.

Our featured spies in matching plaid minis: a sexed-up, chain-smoking French (!) bad-girl (Devon Aoki), a catty but sweet airhead (Jill Ritchie), no-nonsense African American leader (Meagan Good) and frustrated art student Amy.

Their mission: find and arrest Lucy, who, besides robbing banks, is infamous for her failed 1999 attempt to sink Australia (“I don’t like their attitude,” she explains.) What nobody knows is that Lucy’s main concern is her crappy love life: crime pays, but getting dates is a bitch.

The D.E.B.S.—doing their nails while hanging from the rafters of a tony restaurant—stake out Lucy only to find her trying to escape a blind date with a surly Russian assassin (Jessica Cauffiel). After their surveillance is ruined by all-thumbs Homeland Security agents, Sara runs into Lucy, and instead of shooting her, finds true love at first Mexican standoff. Their ensuing affair leads to much inter-friend and agency agita lensed in frenetic screwball comedy style and ending in a small-scale cavalcade of queer affirmation.

Originally a Sundance short film favorite, Robinson’s feature version shows some strain at being elongated to feature length, and her characters’ repartee loses its zing at critical junctures. Still, there’s not a mean bone in the film’s body, and like John Waters circa Hairspray and onward, it understands that there’s nothing like a relentless charm offensive to change hearts and minds.

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