Barely Lethal full movie review - Seems a little genre-confused, but the strong performances and charm do make it a tolerable affair
Prescott is a top secret government agency that turns orphaned kids into super assassins. One of the kids known as Agent 83 (Hailee Steinfeld) craves to have a normal life and do everything that normal kids do.
After a botched mission to take out prolific arms dealer Victoria Knox (Jessica Alba), Agent 83 sees an opportunity to break free from Prescott and enrols in a student exchange programme and moves in with the unsuspecting Larson family. Agent 83 or Megan Walsh as she becomes known as begins to lead a new life as a 'normal' kid, but finds herself ostracised due to her 'weird' ways. Walsh struggles to adjust to her new life are worsened by the fact that the head of Prescott's known as Hardman (Samuel L Jackson) is looking for her with the intention of getting her to leave her normal life and return to Prescott's.
The opening 5-10 minutes of this film held a lot of promise and the idea of a kid being a super assassin wanting to lead a normal life certainly looks good on paper, but the weaknesses in the film are in evidence from a very early stage....
Before I start I would like to say that I have ticked the 'spoiler' box to cover myself, but in all honesty anyone who has seen a handful of teen films will be able to predict pretty much every scene in this film. Weird girl joins a school, becomes an outcast because of her weird ways, falls for the most popular guy in school despite the fact that a less popular guy who she has more in common with worships the ground that she walks on. Weird girl starts to become popular realising that the popular guy isn't all that and ends up falling for the less popular guy who is actually more interesting and who genuinely likes her. Does all this sound familiar? Yes that's because it is mostly a re-tread of Clueless. In fact the filmmakers actually show clips from the film Clueless and even recreate the Suck & Blow game that we saw in Clueless. This can either be looked upon as Homage or a Rip-Off but given the fact that it seems so obvious in what it's doing here I can only assume that these scenes were perhaps intended as a homage.
This lack of originality brings about further problems such as in other areas where the filmmakers directly quote from other teenage films such as Mean Girls and The Breakfast Club. It actually references these films direct and worse still uses quotes or scenes from these films in order to convey character emotions. It's almost like the writers couldn't come up with their own ideas here and just decided to steal ideas from other films. The Clueless example I gave was something I could pass off as Homage, but The Breakfast Club and Mean Girls examples are clearly just ripping off those films.
Barely Lethal also tries to be a hybrid of a spy adventure/action film and a coming of age teen dramedy and whilst it is perhaps possible to meld these two concepts together this is not really something that the writers have been entirely successful at here; the 'spy' or Prescott aspect of the story is barely given any focus and seems to clumsily drift in and out of the story whenever it seems to be convenient. They capture Victoria Knox, but then she escapes - quite how she escapes is never explained and doesn't seem important to the writers??? Then she rocks up at the Larson family home to take out Agent 83, has a scuffle with Agent 83 and gets killed when Hardman and his men arrive to save the day. It's a disappointing finale made worse by the fact that Jessica Alba isn't very convincing and seems miscast as a villain here. Although part of the film is about Hardman trying to track down Agent 83, it isn't played out in a way that is particularly exciting and Hardman seems to find Agent 83 far too easily. At one point Agent 83 says to Hardman 'How did you find me'? and Hardman says ' You Tube' OK unless the video contained specific details of the school such as its name and address I'm unsure how you could trace someone from a You Tube video???
The thing that makes this film more tolerable than it should be are down to some of the performances; The likes of Hailee Steinfeld, Dove Cameron and Samuel L Jackson all help to make this a better film than it should be (particular praise going to Steinfeld who I thought was excellent). It's themes about struggling to gain acceptance for being different will always be relevant and again do give the film some worth.
However, when the chips are down, I couldn't help but feel that I'd seen a lot of this before in Clueless and for the record Clueless was also a much better film.