Angela Robinson's debut feature is a silly confection centering on an elite paramilitary academy that grooms girls into government secret agents. Lesbian teen fantasy not only hangs together but becomes progressively more enjoyable and could be a tidy performer for Screen Gems with young female audiences, with a zesty afterlife on DVD.

Taking high-concept to a new high, Angela Robinson’s debut feature “D.E.B.S.” is a disarmingly silly confection centering on an elite paramilitary academy that grooms girls into sharp-shooting government secret agents. Lesbian teen fantasy blends the infectious buoyancy of high-school pics like “Bring It On” with the comic-strip, girl-power action of “Charlie’s Angels” and the spy spoofery of the “Austin Powers” franchise. Surprisingly, it not only hangs together but becomes progressively more enjoyable and could be a tidy performer for Screen Gems with young female audiences, with a zesty afterlife on DVD.

Expanded from Robinson’s 2003 one-joke short film, this bigger, bolder incarnation is far more engaging than other young lesbian comedies like “But I’m a Cheerleader.” And while it in no way rivals the supremacy of teen-pic classics like “Clueless,” the film’s good-natured mirthfulness and the relative non-issue of its sexual agenda should make it inclusive to teenage girls regardless of their sexual persuasion.

Hidden within the S.A.T. is a secret aptitude test designed to measure students’ propensity to lie, cheat, fight and kill, thus identifying candidates for the underground academy known as D.E.B.S. The academy’s A team of fourth-year graduating students is captained by aggressively dedicated Max (Meagan Good) and includes straight-A student Amy (Sara Foster), prim Janet (Jill Ritchie) and chain-smoking French sex addict Dominique (Devon Aoki).

Informed by academy president Phipps (Michael Clarke Duncan) that arch supervixen Lucy Diamond (Jordana Brewster) has resurfaced and is scheduled to meet with Russian assassin Ninotchka (Jessica Cauffiel), the girls are dispatched to monitor the situation, with the Feds also on alert. All are unaware the meeting is merely a blind date set up by Lucy’s loyal sidekick Scud (Jimmi Simpson) in a bid to get her back in the romance race game after being brutally dumped three years earlier.

When a slip-up alerts the villains to the agents’ presence, a firefight erupts. But as Lucy makes her escape, a close encounter with Amy leaves the bad girl lovestruck, while Amy, who’s just offloaded her boyfriend (Geoff Stults), feels an attraction she can’t quite fathom. Offering herself as research for Amy’s thesis, Lucy lures the D.E.B.S. student into her world, where she reveals herself to be just another misunderstood girl yearning for a real relationship.Imperious D.E.B.S. headmistress Mrs. Peatree (a priceless Holland Taylor) instructs Amy to play the lamb to Lucy’s Lecter in an attempt to bring her in. But Lucy turns the tables on the girls during a bank robbing stunt, igniting the sparks between her and Amy with a kiss and then staging a fake kidnapping so they can be together.

Surprised in the blissful same-sex tryst by her shocked rescuers, Amy accepts her duty to return to the side of righteousness and respectability. But Lucy’s perseverance and Amy’s own sense of what’s right prompt her to make a life-changing decision with the help of her girlfriends.

Somewhat in the vein of “Legally Blonde,” Robinson’s script gets considerable mileage out of the incongruity of girls bringing their Cosmo-informed worldview to the action-espionage sphere: admiring the villain’s sweater during a mission; nemeses swapping views on emotional issues and pausing to floss before a heated face-off.

Outfitted in Britney-era schoolgirl plaid micro-minis and customized, midriff-baring blouses, the D.E.B.S. quartet is appealingly played.

As the group underdog, whose disapproval of Amy’s waywardness is tempered by romantic complicity and a yen for Scud, Ritchie — the only returning cast member from the original short — scores major laughs. Aoki has fun as the sneering Eurotrash, whose esteem for Amy increases after her Sapphic excursion. Foster plays Amy as a smart girl sweetly confused by what’s happening to her, while Brewster — made up to look more Demi than Demi Moore — is sexy-dangerous with an attractive soft side.

Production designer Chris Anthony Miller slaps on an appropriately colorful gloss and lots of amusing retro-styled spy gadgetry, often enhanced by refreshingly low-tech effects work. Pace is brisk, nudged along by the requisite diet of bouncy pop tunes.

D.E.B.S.

Production

A Sony Pictures Entertainment release of a Screen Gems presentation. Produced by Angela Sperling, Jasmine Kosovic. Executive producer, Larry Kennar. Co-producers, Stacy Codikow, Pat Scanlon. Directed, written, edited by Angela Robinson.

Crew

Camera (Deluxe color, Panavision widesrceen, 24p HD), M. David Mullen; music, Steven Stern; production designer, Chris Anthony Miller; set decorator, Laura Evans; costume designer, Frank Helmer; sound (Dolby Digital/SDDS/DTS), Shawn Holden; sound designer, Steve Tusher; visual effects supervisors, David Tecson, Mark Thompson; associate producer, Douglas Salkin; line producer, Michael Crawford; assistant director, Sholto Roeg; casting, Rick Montgomery. Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (Premieres), Jan. 17, 2004. Running time: 91 MIN.

With

Amy - Sara Foster Lucy Diamond - Jordana Brewster Max - Meagan Good Dominique - Devon Aoki Janet - Jill Ritchie Mrs. Peatree - Holland Taylor Mr. Phipps - Michael Clarke Duncan Bobby - Geoff Stults Scud - Jimmi Simpson Ninotchka - Jessica Cauffiel

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