Plot: What’s it about?
Barely Lethal is essentially a High School movie in disguise. That is the basic problem with the film. It can’t decide what it wants to be. In truth, had only a few details been tweaked, it might’ve worked better. I still think that is being too kind to the film, but at least it wouldn’t have such an identity crisis. Megan Walsh (Hailee Steinfeld) is a teenage special ops agent who fakes her own death only to assume a fake identity as an exchange student. Once it gets to this moment, it follows the typical path of the not-so-popular girl who is transformed into the class favorite by the end of the film. It seems to follow a cliché checklist of things that must happen before the final credits roll. There’s the boy who is too insecure to ask her out, we get a scene of her having a deep conversation with another student in a bathtub and lastly, there’s the female villain. There’s also the big High School dance near the end of the film as well.
Hailee Steinfeld caught my eye immediately when I saw her in the True Grit remake, but her performance is fairly flat here. To be fair, blame shouldn’t be placed entirely on her since the script gives her almost nothing to work with. There’s hardly a character worth caring about here. Samuel L. Jackson plays a supporting role as Megan’s mentor who isn’t entirely sure she should stick with her fake identity. Jessica Alba also shows up, but those elements feel like filler. I think the film should’ve dropped the whole spy angle and just focused on a new girl at High School. That is nothing that hasn’t been done before, but at least it wouldn’t feel like two movies in one. Putting Megan as a special ops agent only to recent to being a teen movie feels unnecessary. That angle just doesn’t mesh with the rest of the film. I was surprised to learn that the film was originally rated R, but earned a PG-13 after appealing the initial rating. Supposedly, nothing was changed. Had the film pursued more of a satirical viewpoint, it might’ve also been better, but it becomes the very thing it seems to be mocking. All told, this film should be avoided.
Video: How’s it look?
It’s kind of nice to see a movie shown in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio, isn’t it? A few years back this was the norm, but it seems that movies are now pushing the limits of how wide they can go, so to see a film fill up the 16:9 screen is a bit refreshing. That said, the AVC encoded image leaves little to complain about. Colors are bright and bold, Jessica Alba still looks as ageless as she ever has and Samuel L. Jackson is…the way he looks in every other movie. Contrast is spot on, black levels are on the mark and save for a few softer moments and a tad bit of grain in some scenes – this is a pretty good-looking image.
Audio: How’s it sound?
Thought you might not think it, Barely Lethal actually as a surprisingly robust DTS HD Master Audio soundtrack. Yeah, I was surprised too. Vocals are rich and pure, surrounds actually play a pretty prominent role in the movie and the front stage (coupled with the LFE that have a few chances to shine) combine to form an impressive sound stage. Wow. I’m impressed.
Supplements: What are the extras?
- Audio Commentary – Director Kyle Newman and Actors Dove Cameron and Thomas Mann combine to give us a semi-interesting commentary track. While not the best I’ve heard, it does have some tidbits about the production, references to Samuel L. Jackson and Jessica Alba (of course) and some information about the shoot as a whole. I think only the die hard fans will give this a listen, but it’s nice to have.
- Deleted Scenes
- “Back to School: On the Set of Barely Lethal” – The all too common “Making of…” EPK with some interviews with the cast and crew and some behind the scenes footage. These have gotten way too obligatory.
The Bottom Line
There wasn’t a single character or moment in this film that caused enjoyment for me. The story feels confused, mashing two genres together that should’ve remained separate, and a central story that has been done far too many times.