Barely Lethal Review
From Hannah to Kick-Ass, young women trained for violence seems to have become a popular trend in film. Barely Lethal makes fun of the concept, with a lead who longs for high school instead of a life of tough training and dangerous missions. With this premise, director Kyle Newman and writer John D’Arco deliver a vaguely amusing high school comedy.
Trained in a government program for special agents by the gleefully strict Hardman (Samuel L. Jackson), Megan (Hailee Steinfeld) is top of her class and rival to her peer Heather (Game of Thrones’ Sophie Turner). Pining for a normal teenage life, she seizes an opportunity to fake her own death and escapes to a small town, posing as an exchange student to a host family.
Soon enough – and this is perhaps one of the cleverest moments of the film – she realises that high school is not the idyll she expected. Her fellow classmates, including her host sister Liz (Dove Cameron), give her a lukewarm welcome, and only her friends Cash (Toby Sebastian) and Roger (Thomas Mann) – who promptly become love interests – are of any solace. The script manages to make audiences empathise with her disarray at her peers’ negativity, while also appreciate that although unpleasant, it is preferable to being sent on life-threatening missions.
However, Megan reacts to these challenges rather unrealistically for a highly trained agent. She is reduced to a giggling mess by handsome boys, weeps at classroom humiliations, and falls for rather obvious pranks. This is intended for comic effect, but doesn’t work well – reactions more in keeping with her intelligence and earlier tough character might have drawn more laughs. Later on, the story painfully stereotypes teenage girls, showing Megan and friends prepping a plan involving fancy clothes and heels to defend themselves from villain Victoria Knox (Jessica Alba), who threatens her new-found happiness.
Barely Lethal is a package of harmless jokes, a typical romantic triangle, and cheesy family moments – rounded off with a dramatic confrontation between Megan and Knox. The face-off is impractically shot in a small living room, making the climactic battle look awkwardly cramped. Jackson and Steinfeld give solid performances, despite their lines, and Alba appears to delight in playing a straight-out villain. It’s surprising that a plot this silly has attracted such a famous cast – the film is wholly unremarkable. Barely Lethal isn't a bad mindless watch, but nothing more.