(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.
(In theaters, June 2001) Yes! After a diet of pretentious pseudo-profound cinema and ultra-hyped moronic flicks aimed at retarded teens, it’s such a relief to find a honest B-movie that fully acknowledge what it is. If you like cars, you’ll go bonkers over The Fast And The Furious, one of the most enjoyable popcorn film seen so far in 2001. The plot structure is stolen almost beat-for-beat from Point Break, which should allow you to relax and concentrate on the driving scenes. There aren’t quite enough of those, but what’s there on the screen is so much better than recent car-flick predecessors like Gone In Sixty Seconds and Driven that director Rob Cohen can now justifiably park in the space formerly reserved for Dominic Sena and Renny Harlin. The film’s not without problems, but at least they’re so basic that they’re almost added features. The protagonist is supposed to be played by Paul Walker, but don’t worry; bland blond-boy gets each and every one of his scenes stolen by ascending superstar Vin Diesel, whose screen presence is of a rare distinction. Feminists will howl over the retrograde place of women in the film, but even wannabee-sensitive-guys like me will be indulgent and revel in the uber-babe factor exhibited by Jordana Brewster and Michelle Rodriguez—not to mention the other obligatory car-babes kissing each other. Despite the disappointing lack of racing in the first half, there is a pair of great action sequences by the end, the best involving a botched robbery attempt on a rig with an armed driver. That scene hurts, okay? I still would have loved a better ending, but otherwise, don’t hesitate and rush to The Fast And The Furious if you’re looking for a good, fun B-movie.
(Second viewing, On DVD, March 2002) There isn’t much to that film, if you look closely; three or four action scenes, conventional plotting, a few hot young actors and that’s it. But once again in B-movie-land, it all depends on the execution. Here, the young actors are really hot (from Walker to Diesel to Brewster to Rodriguez), the direction is unobtrusive enough and the film is infused with a love of speed that manages to make all quibbles insignificant. The ending is still problematic, with all its unresolved plot-lines, but the film holds up very well to another viewing. The DVD includes an amusing director’s commentary, deleted scenes (some good, some less. Unfortunately, the director once refers to an alternate ending that’s not included), a rather good making-of, three rather bad music videos and a bunch of other stuff.