Look me in the eyes and tell me this doesn’t sound like an Olsen Twins movie that would have aired on FOX Family in 1998. A young girl (or as it would be, twins), is trained in her childhood to be an assassin (it would be spies for the Olsen Twins), but one day, when she tires of the excessive sheltering, hard work and mental detriment her way of life causes, she fakes her own death to go live as a normal girl and experience suburban high school as she saw it in the movies. The only difference here is that we only have one girl, and the film is outfitted with a hard PG-13 rating to pull teenage audiences in who think they’re getting something slightly edgy on their level, no TV-G rating this time around. “Barely Lethal” is an Olsen Twins movie on steroids, warts and all, take that as you will.
Perhaps it was from the trailers, but I expected something a bit less lighthearted than the film shown here, apart from the occasional sex joke, a few usages of the word “shit” and references to marijuana.What we have here is nothing more than a Disney Channel original movie, down to the pacing and visual effects, the film seems direct from cable. Hailee Steinfeld is perky and likable as Megan Walsh, a teenage girl who escapes her assassin ring of young girls to experience high school as she’s seen it on TV. Steinfeld hasn’t yet done anything substantial since her Oscar-nominated performance in “True Grit” other than her role in the recent “Pitch Perfect 2.” She’s fine here, but she’s playing nothing more than a thinly veiled cartoon of a teenage girl, nothing substantial or powerful enough to engage in. Samuel L. Jackson and Jessica Alba have supporting roles in this film, and in each scene, the glimmer of their paycheck looms in their eyes, as the day looms closer and closer to when they don’t have to be a part of this film anymore.
The rest of the characters you’ve seen before, in every teen movie, Disney Channel movie and ABC Family movie ever made, they are the most basic clichés of the teen movie genre, from the mean girl who warms up in the end, to the douchebag boy with a heart of gold, the geeky boy who has a secret crush on the main girl and so on. It’s hard to really call them characters when what they really are are just outlines of more carefully written characters. The only twist this time around is that our protagonist is an assassin. Where is Hilary Duff when we need her? (Answer: Making mediocre music)
“Barely Lethal” seems like a film I would like when I was in elementary school, here’s the thing, this movie isn’t made for elementary school children, it’s made for middle/high school kids. Yet, “Barely Lethal” plays much more like a basic cable family movie, but with jokes that simply wouldn’t fly for a basic cable movie. The direction, script and acting all seem like they’re reaching for the heads of children, but the weed references, teen drinking and dick jokes seem to be reaching more for the minds of high schoolers, which means the film has basically no audience to enjoy it.
The producer of this film, John Cheng, tweeted earlier today that “Barely Lethal” is “Fun for the entire family,” yet I can’t imagine an entire family really liking it. Your eight year old sister is going to enjoy how much pink there is in the opening credits, your 12 year old brother is going to appreciate Steinfeld, your dad is going to enjoy Alba, your mom is gonna laugh at the unfunny jokes, and you’re probably just gonna wish the best for Jackson. When you put these elements of your family together, “Barely Lethal” still doesn’t turn into a cohesive experience. I’m surprised the film got picked up for theatrical distribution rather than appearing straight-to-video, as seen by the production values, but I guess in this day and age, a simultaneous theatre/VOD release is just as bad, I should’ve seen this one coming from its perverted title in itself.
Directed by: Kyle Newman
Starring: Hailee Steinfeld, Thomas Mann, Sophie Turner, Dove Cameron, Toby Sebastian, Gabriel Basso, with Jessica Alba and Samuel L. Jackson.
Runtime: 99 minutes
Rating: PG-13 for sexual material, teen drinking, language, drug references and some action violence.
Available in select theatres and video-on-demand.
A24/Main Street Films presents, an RKO Pictures/RatPac Entertainment production, in association with Hopscotch Pictures and 120DB Films, in association with Highland Film Group/Windowseat Pictures, a Kyle Newman film, “Barely Lethal”