Barely Lethal – Film Review
I’ll concede that I never saw True Grit. But I did see Pitch Perfect 2. And I know that her obnoxious, dipshit character was obligatory in a sequel, but still. She was not good.
Barely Lethal doesn’t do anything to alter my opinion.
TL;DR Wanting to be both a high school movie and an assassin cheese-fest, Barely Lethal ends up committing to neither. It’s a shallow, predictable high school movie, and a neutered, disappointing cheesy assassin movie. Jessica Alba and Samuel L Jackson cash their paycheques, and I’m sure Hailee Steinfeld will go on to ruin more teen girl movies. 2 out of 5 stars.
Please, let there be a God, and don’t have her show up for Pitch Perfect 3.
The plot takes us on a tour of Prescott, a child assassin indoctrination training facility. Hailee was raised there as an orphan, and is now director Samuel L Jackson’s top student. While on a return trip from capturing weapons dealer Jessica Alba, Hailee is lost in the field and takes the opportunity to avoid being recovered by Prescott so she can go live a normal, teen girl life. She poses as a Canadian exchange student and moves in with a host family, and sets about to recreate the most dull and predictable teen movie experience she can imagine. This involves falling in love with a cool musician boy, while a nice, nerdy boy pines after her; becoming uneasy friends with her host family sister; and climbing the social ranks to outlive her dorky first impression. Then the movie remembers that there’s supposed to be an assassin spy story going on, so Sansa from Game of Thrones, a rival agent, turns up to rock Hailee’s shit. And she’s also joined forces with Jessica Alba, who is the original Prescott student, by the way. Hailee ends up saving her family, winning the right boy’s affections, and goes off to college.
And the poor movie is optimistic enough to give us a sequel hook. I admire their detachment from reality.
To be honest, Barely Lethal isn’t offensively bad. It’s simply bland.
There are no peaks or troughs. The characters in most of the action sequences are children, so I never expected them to be in any real danger (and they weren’t). And I really, really just don’t get Hailee Steinfeld.
She’s just, like, nothing to me.
Why I hate this movie:
Her look isn’t particularly striking, and her line delivery isn’t anything to write home about. I actually feel compelled to go watch True Grit, because I just don’t see why she’s a famous and lauded actress. She’s hasn’t got it, baby.
Jessica Alba and Samuel L Jackson, conversely, do have great screen presence. But Barely Lethal was very obviously filmed around their busy schedules, because they only get a handful of isolated scenes.
The greatest crime in the casting department is that Jaime King gets, like, half a line. Why even bother casting her? I know she’s no great A-lister, but damn, this movie disrespected my Jaime.
Barely Lethal makes the same mistake The DUFF did and doesn’t give us a fully-fledged mean girl character. Sansa gets a couple of “Oh, shit, we forgot to include a villain just dump her in there” scenes near the end, but for the high school portions of the movie, we get a pair of supposed mean girls who try to sabotage Hailee once, and then barely exist for the rest of the runtime. Did their characters even get names?
The problem is that there were way too many supporting characters, and not enough time for them. The DUFF had the sense to keep things focused, and even then Bella Thorne got shafted. Barely Lethal, which, remember, is essentially two movies in one, just piles them on in.
The fish out of water stuff with Hailee is exhausting.
There’s a scene where Hailee, having been convinced to be the school’s mascot for a pep rally, is attacked by masked goons trying to abduct her. Naturally, she beats the shit out of them because she’s a trained assassin, and it’s revealed that they were just kids from a rival school trying to pull a “kidnap the mascot” prank. A lot of people witness the beatdown, and she is inexplicably jeered and laughed at. What the hell? That was awesome.
Bonus demerit points for those same critics then celebrating her after a video of the event goes viral.
Speaking of Hailee being an assassin, she reveals to Liz, her host sister, later in the movie that she has in fact never killed anyone. Wait, hold up. How the fuck is she Samuel L’s best agent if she hasn’t even killed anyone before? What?
That’s also an obvious weasel to get out of the awkwardness of your protagonist in a teen girl comedy being a brainwashed contract killer. Lame.
Another weasel is that all the Prescott students are convenient orphans. Because we haven’t got time to address the horror of a school designed to train children from infancy to be assassins. Also, how did Hailee grow up so well-adjusted?
Hailee’s Homecoming dress is boring as fuck.
Oh, and at every turn I was reminded of So Undercover. And So Undercover was so much better.
But it’s not all bad:
Forget Hailee Steinfeld, the real standout here is the girl who plays Liz. She is totally believable, her character actually has an arc (two if you include her romantic subplot), and she gets to do some pretty convincing drunk acting. Here’s to you, Dove Cameron.
She also gets best line of the movie when she helps Hailee take down Sansa in the finale: “Stabbing is fun.” I imagine so.
The best moments of the movie are the action scenes between Hailee and Sansa. They have a car battle for starters, which is cute enough. But their duel at Homecoming has some great fight choreography. And Sansa makes for a wicked little bad girl. You can’t trust that beautiful, red hair.
You know whose beautiful, red hair you can trust? Gabriel Basso’s, who plays the jock bully/Liz’s love interest. He starts off as the stereotypical douchebag, but gets some development that shows he’s actually not that bad and has a love for acting. He and Liz get together while drunk, and they make a great pair. He’s like a more grounded Cameron Monaghan.
Samuel L and Jessica bring the requisite level of sass for their roles.
Oh, and if the teased sequel were to focus on Hailee and Sansa in a college-set battle for Regular Girl supremacy, I’d watch it.
Barely Lethal isn’t good, but it isn’t heinous. It kind of just isn’t anything. The actors shouldn’t be ashamed to put it on their resumes, but I doubt they’ll lead with it at any dinner party conversations. 2 out of 5 stars.