Starring: Hailee Steinfeld, Samuel L. Jackson, Jessica Alba, Dove Cameron, Sophie Turner, Thomas Mann, Rachael Harris, Gabriel Basso, Toby Sebastian, Dan Fogler, Jaime King, Rob Huebel, Steve-O
Directed By: Kyle Newman
I had no idea this film ever was in theatres. Apparently, it was released in May on 22 screens, and when it left theatres it had a grand total of $6,075 at the box office. That’s really sad for a film with some recognizable (and talented) actors. I’d say the problem with Barely Lethal is that I don’t know how I would market it. It neither really works as a teen spy comedy, or as a teen comedy at all. It doesn’t really function as anything despite having a charming cast that does work, despite the scripts best efforts to give them very little to work with.
Barely Lethal has the premise that there’s an academy somewhere training kids to be assassins, and that one kid (Steinfeld) grows tired of being an assassin, so she fakes her death and figures out how to enroll in high school as a foreign exchange student. Her new family (Cameron, Harris) is cool, but her new high school seems to hate her (because in film, the new kid never fits in right away), and she’s learning all these new social quirks she never studied while being an assassin.
What does work in this film is Hailee Steinfeld, who reminds me of a young Sandra Bullock. She’s got that quirky humor, that disarming charm, and the “girl who wouldn’t normally be your first choice, but totally should be” vibe. Despite the film giving her very little to work with, she does a good job. She’s never truly believable as a spy, but that doesn’t really matter. She’ll charm the shit out of you, and you’ll root for her without ever knowing why. Sophie Turner, also does great work, and is a bit more believable as a bad ass spy. She’s gotten better material on Game Of Thrones, but here she doesn’t have to be so serious. It’s nice to see her in a lighter role. Thomas Mann, Dove Cameron, and Rachael Harris all do good work. Samuel L. Jackson does pretty much what you’d expect of him, but Jessica Alba (and defintely Jaime King) are wasted. Gabriel Basso, so promising in Kings Of Summer, is relegated to playing a dumb jock, which also wastes his talents.
Kyle Newman, who brought us the troubled production of Fanboys, doesn’t seem to know which direction to take the film. And because of that, the film just comes out like Jell-O that wasn’t given an opportunity to mold correctly. It pours out, as a sometimes-spy-movie and a sometimes-teen-comedy. The spy element is never fully fleshed out, and often the film never tries to explain any of it. Basically, after the opening sequence that establishes that there’s this super secret agency that trains kids, you realize that it’s just a plot device. Basically, this is a teen comedy about being the new kid, but being a new kid under extraordinary circumstances. When the spy element does come into play, it’s almost quickly shoved into the backseat because “that boy is just so cute”. So, instead of having a strong female lead, you sometimes have a girly-girl who just wants a certain boy to like her. Really, the boys should be gushing over her, because she’s a bad ass. This film could have flipped that trope on its head, having boys fighting over her, instead of making Megan go googly eyed over the boy who plays guitar.
Barely Lethal is now available at Redbox and via Amazon Prime streaming. It’s the kind of bad film you won’t feel angered over having watched, but you know you gained nothing from that 90 minutes of your time. That’s probably why Barely Lethal has gone so unnoticed, while people keep talking about how awful Aloha and Fantastic Four are, because you hate yourself for having watched those films having had high expectations. My advice, should you want to watch Barely Lethal, is to have zero expectations, so that way you can just enjoy the actors in the film without feeling guilty.
Destined to be forgotten.
FINAL GRADE: C-