Barely Lethal (2015)    1 Stars

“Click. Clique. Bang.”

Barely Lethal (2015)
Barely Lethal (2015)


Director: Kyle Newman

Cast: Hailee Steinfeld, Samuel L. Jackson, Jessica Alba

Synopsis: A teenage special ops agent coveting a “normal” adolescence fakes her own death and enrolls in a suburban high school. She quickly learns that surviving the treacherous waters of high school is more challenging than international espionage.

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Given its high concept storyline about a teenage secret agent plunged into the deadly world of the American high school, it’s a little difficult to see exactly which demographic RKO’s Barely Lethal is targeting. The struggles of Hailee Steinfeld’s plucky fish out of water to negotiate the challenges of making friends, dating boys and fitting in at her new school will be anathema to most young teenage boys but it will probably strike a chord with the girls, while the reverse is true of the frequent action sequences. Much of the film feels as if it’s pitched at families until around the half-way mark when the first of two F-bombs is dropped (in the film’s one genuinely funny scene). Somehow, by attempting to cater for all audiences, Barely Lethal ends up appealing to none.

Steinfeld (Ender’s Game) plays Megan Walsh (aka Agent 83), one of an elite group of special agents trained to become killers since early childhood by shouty Agent Hardman (Samuel L. Jackson – Big Game, Kingsman: The Secret Service). Megan is amongst the best of Hardman’s recruits, but she longs for the life of a normal teenage girl. She gets the opportunity to achieve her dream when she fakes her own death during an otherwise successful mission to apprehend villainous Victoria Knox (Jessica Alba – A.C.O.D.), and enrols in a student exchange programme which finds her sharing a home with Mrs Larson (Rachael Harris), her teenaged daughter, Liz (Dove Cameron), and young son, Parker (Jason Ian Drucker). However, it’s not long before Megan realises that all of the meticulous research she carried out before her defection is worthless when faced with the frightening realities of high school life. To make matters worse, it’s not long before Hardman tracks her down…

Barely Lethal relies on Megan’s bewildered reactions to the realities of high school life for most of its laughs, and to be honest she’s a little too gullible at times; nevertheless, by the time the credits roll we’re left with the impression that she got off pretty lightly as her mishaps inadvertently win her the respect of her peers and catch the eye of cool rock star pupil, Cash (Toby Sebastian). The producers are very careful when it comes to the wish-fulfilment aspect of their story, with Megan’s dilemmas never proving to be more than mildly unnerving for her, and they chose well in Steinfeld, a pretty girl, but no stand-out beauty with whom most teenage girls would find it difficult to identify.

Barely Lethal is a pleasant enough watch, and the turns of adult stars Jackson and Alba providing a welcome contrast to the otherwise youthful cast’s high school intrigues. Its influences – from Cody Banks to Mean Girls – are never disguised, but neither are they surpassed, and it’s entirely likely that, mere days after watching it, you won’t even remember that you did.

(Reviewed 24th November 2015)

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