Nothing much works in this clunky attempt at action-comedy and even the talents of Hailee Steinfeld and Samuel L. Jackson can’t save it…
Oh, boy. August really hasn’t been a great month for movies. After the dismal likes of Fantastic Four, Pixels, Sinister 2 and Hitman: Agent 47, along comes Barely Lethal, a film that lives up to its fortuitous title. Hailee Steinfeld stars as Agent 83 who is part of a secret agent programme that raises kids to become lethal government contractors. 83, however, doesn’t want to do that and instead desires to be part of a normal family, go to high school, watch Clueless and Mean Girls, and ultimately get her life together. Meanwhile, her former mentor, played by Samuel L Jackson, doesn’t want her to do that and wants her to concentrate on the mission in hand. So during a mission, she fakes her own death and escapes and decides to fulfil her high school fantasy, but her past catches up with her as she’s trying to escape the clutches of both big bad Jessica Alba and arch-rival Sophie Turner of TV’s Game of Thrones.
This is billed as an action-comedy but it’s not funny at all. There is a moment where Hailee Steinfeld’s character is having a conversation with her adopted sister (played by Dove Cameron), who asks her if she’s killed anyone to which she replies “no” and it’s question of when will she do it, and then their mother’s listening in, thinking they are talking about boys. It’s toe-curling, much like all the other gags in the movie, apart from one sly joke about The Notebook, which did raise a giggle. Other than that, it’s trying to send up Mean Girls and Clueless, but instead only recalls memories of the dull high school storyline with Hit-Girl in the disappointing Kick-Ass 2 and that’s not a good sign.
The action is lamely directed and very low-rent, lacking finesse in its execution and looking cheap as a result, which is unfortunate if this is also meant to be an action movie as well. Also, much like this year’s misjudged actioner Big Game (which also starred Samuel L Jackson), it can’t quite decide what the age of its target audience is. Is it playing for grown-ups or for teenagers? In the end, it falls slap bang in the middle, and as a result becomes a misfiring mess that’s not very good and would probably alienate its audience anyway. Plus there is a romance subplot that is predictable as hell and so annoyingly formulaic that you just end up sighing.
The performances are a mixed bag with some just phoning it in unsurprisingly. Hailee Steinfeld, who was really outstanding in her debut feature-film True Grit, has just been rather poorly served by roles ever since with the lacklustre Romeo and Juliet and the god-awful 3 Days to Kill. In the case of this, even though her performance is adequately solid, she’s completely let down by the writing and this just proves that she really needs some kind of “McConaissance” at once. Dove Cameron does bring a spicy attitude to proceedings and she’s pretty much the best thing in the film, but she too suffers from the script. Samuel L Jackson, Jessica Alba and Sophie Turner on the other hand look bored out of their brains and seem desperate to be somewhere else.
In the end, Barely Lethal is nothing but cringe-worthy action-comedy balderdash, however it’s not as terrible as Fantastic Four for two reasons. One: at least there’s action in the film; mediocre action but action nevertheless. Two: the sister relationship is quite cute and believable and in Fantastic Four you couldn’t care less about any of them. Other than that, it’s still rubbish, and demonstrates that actually an extended maths exam course would be more fun than this.