Barely Lethal

2015-05-29 08:56

What it's about:

A young orphan girl, raised by her very specialized orphanage to be a master assassin, finally gets her chance to be a regular teenage girl when a mission gone wrong allows her to fake her own death and enter herself into a foreign exchange program where she gets to live with a perfectly “average” American family. Escaping her past, however, proves to be a lot harder than it looks.

What we thought:

Barely Lethal is, frankly speaking, a truly brilliant title for a movie. It's the kind of title that is so good that an entire movie can spring out, fully formed, from nothing more than those two little words. It certainly wouldn't surprise me if that was the case here. It's not particularly surprising that the actual film is never as good as its punny moniker might suggest but even if it does feel like a very real missed opportunity, it's actually way more fun than you might think a Grosse Point Blank for the Twilight crowd might be.

No question, it would have been great if Barely Lethal took the Buffy the Vampire Slayer route and used its silly premise as a metaphor for real adolescent concerns (though, to be fair, it does touch on this at least a little) or did something anarchic in the mould of Kick Ass or Kingsman: The Secret Service. It's sadly nowhere near that interesting. It's also a very far cry from the much more adult and gritty Hannah, which is another obvious touchstone for this movie. It's not even really a movie about assassins or high octane action – though, again, there is a bit of this.

What it is instead is a fairly straightforward teen comedy that happens to feature lethal kid-assassins, along with Jessica Alba as a surprisingly fitting baddie and Samuel L Jackson as the most cuddly hard-ass ever. And, really, the Grosse Point Blank comparison really isn't entirely fatuous. In the same way that Grosse Point Blank was a romcom underneath all its assassin action, Barely Lethal is a sweet teen comedy underneath its own cloak of tougher genre trappings. They're even both set around a high school, for crying out loud.

OK, maybe it's a bit of a stretch and, yes, obviously Barely Lethal isn't a patch on the sheer bloody awesomeness of one of John Cusack's very best movies (and, to those of you too young to remember John Cusack from the '80s through to the early 2000s, he really was in loads and loads of great movies) but the fact that I could make an even remote connection between Barely Lethal and a modern day classic means that it has at least something going for it.

It has a script by newbie John D'Arco, for starters, that may be cliché but is also quite witty, often laugh out loud funny, with more than enough heart to prevent it from ever being nothing more than an exercise in genre cross-dressing. It also has as its director Kyle Newman, a guy who made his name doing cult flicks like Fanboys and The Crazies remake, and someone who clearly knows how to keep things moving and, not for nothing, tonally consistent. Barely Lethal is fluff but it's entertaining fluff that at least it knows what it is.

It also has a cast that includes heavy hitters like Jackson and Game of Thrones' Sophie Turner to balance out anyone who doesn't quite manage to pull their weight, but its not-so-secret secret weapon is Hailee Steinfeld. Steinfeld made her name as a terrific actress in the Coens' True Grit but, between this and Pitch Perfect 2, it's nice to see that she's no less great when she kicks back and tries her hand at something significantly lighter. She is, in a word, adorable and even if she doesn't quite convince as a ruthless killer here (no one else does either, of course – that's sort of the point), she is simply adorable as the film's more than slightly dorky, fish-out-of-water heroine. I know that sounds condescending as hell but if you've seen the film, you'll know that it's anything but.           

In short, Barely Lethal isn't what you might hope it to be and is perhaps not even anywhere as great as it could have been but that certainly doesn't mean it wasn't really quite good fun. And, if nothing else, your fourteen year old daughter will freaking love it!

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