|Starring:||Sara Foster, Jordana Brewster, Devon Aoki|
In the wonderful world of show business, counter-programming refers to the usually effective strategy of releasing two completely different movies at the same time so that each film will appeal to its targeted demographic. For example, when “Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace” and the Julia Roberts romantic comedy “Notting Hill” opened on the same weekend back in May of 1999, both films did extremely well at the box office by scoring with sci-fi fans and adult moviegoers respectively.
The same theory applies to the Sundance Film Festival. High up in the cold mountain air of Park City, Utah, the festival is a bona-fide mecca for independent films that cater to a more sophisticated audience. This year’s fest (celebrating its 20th anniversary) is no exception, with challenging films that require a deeper level of commitment from the moviegoer — films like “The Woodsman” (with Kevin Bacon as a reformed pedophile), “November” (a non-linear psychological thriller featuring Courteney Cox) and “The Machinist” (starring an emaciated Christian Bale).
With so many intense films on the menu, why not have a little fun by providing dedicated moviegoers with a little desert after a week of too many full-course meals? To that extent, the sexy, disarmingly good-natured and enormously entertaining spy spoof “D.E.B.S.” hits the spot as a “Charlie’s Angels” meets “Bring It On” style retro-romp with loads of charm, lots of action and a great-looking cast dressed in skimpy schoolgirl outfits. Hey, with a premise like that, what’s not to like?
Welcome to the underground institution known as D.E.B.S — an acronym for Discipline, Energy, Beauty and Strength — where bright young girls are trained to become secret agents with a keen sense of fashion. This year’s top squad includes straight-A student Amy (Sara Foster), fearless leader Max (Meagan Good), goody-two-shoes Janet (Jill Ritchie) and sex-starved Dominique (Devon Aoki). They face their greatest challenge yet when they take on the deadly Lucy Diamond (Jordana Brewster), but when Lucy and Amy fall for each other, Amy is forced to make a difficult decision. Will she turn her back on her fellow D.E.B.S. and shack up with Lucy, or will she do what’s right in an effort to save the world?
After her short film of the same name generated plenty of buzz at last year’s Sundance Film Festival, writer-director-editor Angela Robinson returns only one year later with her expanded feature. The fact that the film is as polished and assured as this is an accomplishment in itself, but even beyond that, the pace is brisk, the tone is appropriately tongue-in-cheek and the colorful production values are surprisingly top-notch considering its quick turnaround time and (presumably) low-budget.
It’s hard to criticize the performances in a film like this, but it’s safe to say that all the D.E.B.S hit their mark. Sara Foster is charming as hell as the sexually confused super student Amy, while Jill Ritchie (the only actress to return from the original short) is just as effective as the p rim-and-proper Janet. Meagan Good shows plenty of girl power as Max, and after hitting the skids in last summer’s “2 Fast 2 Furious,” Devon Aoki exudes plenty of sex appeal as Dominique. As the evil-but-lonely Lucy Diamond, Jordana Brewster is too beautiful for words, and Jimmi Simpson gives the film just the right amount of comic relief as Brewster’s wisecracking sidekick.
Counter-programming or not, “D.E.B.S.” is a fun-filled film that should find a solid audience when it is released later this year (and as long as distributor Screen Gems markets the film properly, it could have a potential franchise on its hands). If the film’s positive reception by the Sundance crowd is any indication, then “D.E.B.S.” is just what the doctor ordered, and with more movies like this on the bill, next year’s Sundance Film Festival can’t get here fast enough.