(On Cable TV, October 2016) I expected more from D.E.B.S. The initial setup (Young women recruited in a bubble-gum spy organization through SAT test results) isn’t bad and the overall premise (same-sex romance between spy and terrorist mastermind) does have a kick to it. But the way D.E.B.S. is executed usually falls flat. While the film embraces campiness, low-budget production techniques and ridiculous humour, the overall result feels a bit too forced to be enjoyable. The campiness isn’t an antidote for bland dialogue and dumb humour, and there’s a feeling throughout the film that the filmmakers would rather wink and nudge to the audience rather than beef up the script. The low-budget aesthetics (constant green screens, artificial staging, excessive cross-cutting without establishing shots) get tiresome after a while and reinforce the amateurish nature of the film. D.E.B.S. occasionally jolts to life whenever there’s a good line or two, and greatly benefits from the presence of Fast and the Furious alumni Jordana Brewster and Devon Aoki, but ultimately it looks like a punchline in search of a decent setup. The first few minutes’ comic inventiveness is quickly reduced to nearly nothing, while the girl-girl hero/villain romance doesn’t quite gel into something more than moderately interesting. I will certainly give it points for being something self-assuredly different from the norm (and, obviously, being a passion project for writer/director Angela Robinson), but there’s a leap from there to a genuinely enjoyable film that D.E.B.S. doesn’t quite take. It may be worth a look as a curiosity, but otherwise it’s a disappointment even without high expectations.
(On DVD, June 2008) Bikinisploitation, anyone? As excuses go to show bikini-clad good-looking young women doing martial arts scenes, this film is as good as it needs to be: The visuals are slick, the action scenes are fun, the plot reaches a decent clever/dumb balance. It’s based on a series of video games (including a bouncy-bouncy volleyball spin-off that does make it in the film), but you don’t need to be a gamer to appreciate the way the film consciously goes for PG-13 titillation. No one bleeds, no one shows more skin than a bikini allows, everyone gets to throw a few kung-fu kicks (which must be tougher than you think in bare feet) and there’s little left to do but cheer in bemused satisfaction. The featured actresses aren’t all equally compelling (Devon Aoki: Yes. Generic blondes? No.) but at least director Cory Yuen manages to keep things hopping with dynamic editing, relatively rapid fight sequences and a few beautiful shots here and there. Here’s a safe prediction if you happen to see this film with a group: The guys will like it and the girls will be bored.
(In theaters, June 2003) Cars, crime and chicks in sunny Miami; what else could you ask for? Okay, so Vin Diesel is missing and so is a lot of the energy of the original The Fast And The Furious. But it doesn’t matter as much as you think: This time around, the cars look better, and if no one can outfox Michelle Rodriguez, Eva Mendes and Devon Aoki are totally appropriate eye-candy. Paul Walker doesn’t have to struggle under the shadow of Diesel, and he emerges as a mildly engaging protagonist. (The homo-erotic subtext of his character’s relationship with buddy Tyrone can be a little ridiculous at times, though; how many jealous glances can we tolerate before bursting out laughing?) It’s a shame that about half the car chases don’t really work; dodgy camera moves, overuse of CGI over stunt driving and over-chopped editing don’t help in building a gripping action scene. At least the two highway sequences are nifty. The last stunt is weak and so are many of the plot points before then, but 2 Fast 2 Furious goes straight in the “guilty pleasures” category; a fine way to spend a lazy evening.
(Second viewing, On DVD, March 2004) Fast cars, curvy women and sunny Miami: Even the second time around, it’s hard to be angry at this film even as the dialogue is painful, the action scenes aren’t particularly successful and the ending is lame. At least the DVD offers some consolation through a series of interesting making-of documentaries and a few extra car-related goodies. John Singleton’s tepid audio commentary does much to demonstrate the uninspired nature of the film’s production. Competent without being particularly commendable, adequate without being particularly satisfying. This one goes out straight to Eva Mendes fans and car buffs. Not that there’s anything wrong with being either.