Thursday, February 11, 2016

Barely Lethal: Movie Review

A giant leap into nonsense with a preposterous premise and limited comedy.

Barely Lethal is a teen girl comedy and a spy action movie. Like combining Clueless (1995) and Mean Girls (2004) with Kick-Ass (2010) and Sucker Punch (2011). Not a bad combination if it works, but the premise starts at such a ridiculous level and it only gets worse from there. There are some good ideas, but overall it's a far-fetched mess. 2015

Directed by: Kyle Newman

Screenplay by: John D'Arco

Starring: Hailee Steinfeld

Agent 83 (Hailee Steinfeld) is born into a special secret operative training program for little girls who are groomed into special teenage girl killing machines. Think of the TV show Covert Affairs but subtract 15 years from Piper Perabo's age and make it way less realistic; which should be a major warning sign with flashing yellow lights since realism was far from its strong suit. But then Agent 83 is more interested in reading Teen People and Tiger Beat magazine and watches the aforementioned Clueless and Mean Girls for research, and you start getting the idea that the movie might come back down to Earth.

She decides to enroll in high school, signs herself up for a student exchange program, finds a family to live with, moves in and starts her high school experience. And that all happens in around 30 seconds. While I appreciated the efficiency, there is zero explanation of how she does all this. Creates a fake identity including all the documents that come with it? Probably. Hacks into a student exchange program? Probably. Further hacks into the system to force the family to accept her even though there is no actual exchange? Probably. Do they even know what the word “exchange” means? Probably not.

Accepting the premise of this movie is just one giant leap into nonsense. It can work if it's entertaining, but the forced comedy that high school is so much harder than being a spy doesn't help. However I did like the idea that classic teen girl comedies have led her astray all the while still following that structure. Under her new name, Megan tries to identify the popular girls but isn't very successful. She meets the cute and smart A/V geek and the sexy and worshipped musician, but is unable to figure out which one doesn't actually care for her and which one is the ultimate catch.

Recognizing that they're following the traditional high school storylines already established in her referenced movie guidelines works since we don't have to spend more time than necessary watching the expected plots unfold. But on the other hand it means they get to spend more time in the world of special teenage girl killing machines, and that just gets boring because it's too ludicrous.

I really enjoyed Thomas Mann as Roger, the unassuming nice guy at school. And he had absolutely brilliant exchanges with Rob Huebel as his father. They weren't established as main characters so I'm not sure why they got their own scenes, but they were hilarious so it was worth it. Rachael Harris also added a really nice human element. She's the mother of the family that takes Megan in and her attempts to be supportive and motherly are both very touching and funny since she doesn't know Megan's true identity.

It's too hard to get past the preposterous premise of Barely Lethal and once you do there's just not enough comedy and substance to it.

Similar Titles:

Family Weekend (2013) - Dark comedy turns a kidnapping into a sweet coming-of-age story.

Hick (2011) - Loses the characters, the point and our interest long before the end.

California Scheming (2014) - A thriller that becomes nothing with worthless characters.