on March 25, 2005 by Annlee Ellingson
Every year, high-school students across the country sharpen their #2 pencils and take the SAT. What they don't know is that hidden within the questions on verbal and math skills is a diagnostic test that also measures their aptitude for lying, cheating and killing. If a young woman scores high enough on this covert portion of the exam, she is recruited to join an underground academy known as the D.E.B.S.

The conceit of writer/director Angela Robinson's send-up of grrl-powered actioners like "Charlie's Angels" is admittedly delicious, and the idea, which was first conceived with a few comic-book drawings, is here executed with a lot of energy and a bawdy sense of humor. But there's an undercurrent of commentary as well that elevates it above spoof-dom.

Amy (Sara Foster) is a straight-A student and the only girl to ever earn a perfect score on the secret test. But, approaching graduation, she's not sure D.E.B.S. is right for her: She has broken up with her boyfriend and wants to go to art school when she's done with her secret-agent training. However, an unexpected encounter with Lucy Diamond (Demi Moore lookalike Jordana Brewster, all smoky-eyed and sparkly-lipped), a villain so deadly no one has ever battled her and lived to tell about it, kindles emotions she's never felt before. Amy is branded a hero and named captain of her squad for surviving the chance meeting, much to the chagrin of her friend Max (Meagan Good), but soon she stages her own kidnapping, leaving her friends and responsibilities behind to spend more time with Lucy.

What begins as innuendo becomes explicit. "We can't do this again," Amy tells Lucy early in the film. She's referring to the illicit fraternization between good guys and bad guys--or, rather, good girls and bad girls, in this case--but she's also alluding to the nature of their budding relationship: two attractive women in an experimental phase, never to be repeated. It's a clever metaphor: the lesbian as criminal mastermind, a bad influence in either case. A few decades ago, it would have been downright insurgent. Today, it's still fun.

Robinson in the beginning thought her doodles of an all-girl crew of crime-fighting secret agents might make a good comic book or cartoon, and she flirted with web animation. Eventually she received a grant to make a 10-minute short. This first incarnation of "D.E.B.S." screened at Sundance in 2003. Catching the eye of a Screen Gems executive there, it premiered as a feature film just one year later.

It was a smooth transition, although the storytelling here could have been tighter. Amy's perfect test score promises to be revelatory but ultimately isn't satisfactorily so. Relatedly, there's also a theme about love, about its requirements of trust and honesty, and whether it can exist among people who lie, cheat and kill for a living, but unfortunately the filmmakers miss an opportunity to explore it with the same attentiveness as they did homosexuality.

But those are quibbles for a film that for the most part fulfills the promise of its title. "D.E.B.S.": Discipline. Energy. Beauty. Strength. Oh, and Fun. Starring Sara Foster, Jordana Brewster, Meagan Good, Devon Aoki, Jill Ritchie, Holland Taylor, Michael Clarke Duncan and Jimmi Simpson. Directed and written by Angela Robinson. Produced by Andrea Sperling and Jasmine Kosovic. An IDP release. Action/Comedy. Rated PG-13 for sexual content and language. Running time: 90 min

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