Barely Lethal, 2015
Directed by Kyle Newman.
Starring Hailee Steinfeld, Jessica Alba, Sophie Turner, Thoman Mann, Dove Cameron, Rachael Harris, Jason Ian Drucker and Samuel L. Jackson.
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.
Actress Hailee Steinfeld is seemingly everywhere now that her Hollywood stock is on the vertical up-and-up. After captivating audiences aged just 14 in The Coen Brothers’ excellent True Grit, the Californian actress has moved swiftly through film after film with fine performances in Begin Again, The Homesman and this summer’s Pitch Perfect 2 whose massive box-office success will no doubt see her return for a third aca-go-round. Still only 18, the world is her oyster but she takes a break from the musical word to get down-and-dirty in action-thriller-comedy Barely Lethal which, despite her packing a punch, only barely survives a one-way ticket to the DVD bargain basement.
Barely Lethal starts as it means to go on with an energetic opening salvo that introduces us to Prescott, a top secret school that turns fledgling young females into killers, led by Hardman (Samuel L. Jackson in typically brash, shouty mode). “It’s all about putting holes in the subject”, one of the any words of wisdom Jackson’s leader bestows upon his assembly line of to-be-moulded secret weapon. Agent 83 (Steinfeld) is the best of the best, but as she reaches her teenage years, she begins to yearn for the normal things, gathering Intel on parties and teen fashion via Mean Girls, Clueless and Bring It On, and sets off to high school after being presumed dead in the early stages.
From there, Barely Lethal settles into the tried and tested formula of countless high-school movies over recent years, moving from beat to beat at a brisk pace as 83 (now calling herself Megan) slowly realises that espionage is child’s play compared to the dark recesses of high school politics and pep rallies. Adolescence is of course a very volatile time for a young lady, worse than trying to take down terrorists and bad guys, which seems almost too easy in comparison. But she manages to slowly blend in with her new exchange family, as well as catch the attention of both the school musician hottie (Toby Sebastian) and the lonely nerd Roger (Mann), both of whom soon end up vying for her affections. Yep, espionage “ain’t got nothing” on high-school.
Directed by Kyle Newman (Fanboys), the film is inoffensive fun of the middle order – hard to hate, but difficult to love. It’s the film equivalent of Ronseal: it does exactly what it says on the tin. High-school shenanigans? Check. High-speed car chase? Check. Some energetic fit scenes? Check. Horribly dodgy CGI? oh yes. Jessica Alba seemingly wearing another dodgy wig? You bet. It does everything it wants to do without ever rising above “OK” and it seems to be completely fine with that, moving along at a decent enough “pace” to get its job done no fuss, no muss.
Steinfeld, whose star continues to rise, is not at True Grit level of performance, but like he film she does what’s needed. Thomas Mann, superb in Me and Earl and The Dying Girl, does his best with the scraps he gets given, but is a fun presence throughout. Sophie Turner, on the he other hand, may want to add this to her “can’t watch myself in it” pile.
As with the recent Big Game, Jackson continues his trend of seemingly taking every opportunity that comes across his table, but it’s never dull watching the veteran up to his usual tricks. The same can’t be said for poor Jessica Alba who certainly looks the part, but a decent villain she does not make and is awful throughout.
While it was never going to win any prizes for what it wants to achieve, Barely Lethal barely gets above the average scoreline, but if you want some inoffensive espionage/high-school fun then this may tickle the fancy my be a welcome 90-minute distraction.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Barely Lethal is released in UK cinemas and VOD on August 28th.