2015 has played host to several spy films but also several coming-of-age flicks too. Now, combining the two genres, is the Kyle Newman directed teen, espionage thriller Barely Lethal. However, just how good a film is this upbeat action-comedy affair? Well, read on for my review to find out.
Ever since she was a little girl, the only life that Megan Walsh (Hailee Steinfeld) has known is that of a highly trained, deadly assassin - having being brought up by the tough, emotionless Hardman (Samuel L. Jackson) at the just as equally tough and emotionless Prescott School For Girls, where little girls with no hope go to become lethal weapons. However, upon entering her peak years as a teenager, she decides she wants to live like a normal 17 year old girl so, after faking her death, during a mission, she decides to enrol in a student exchange program and gets taken in by a family. However, what she soon realises is that being a teenager and fitting in isn't quite as glamorous as it seems as the pressures and struggles of high-school begin to close in on her - as do some old faces from her history.
The premise at play here isn't exactly groundbreaking, Newman just uses an assassin backstory for our protagonist's previous lifestyle rather than something else but the general idea is rather similar to many other coming-of-age films. As far as these films tend to go, it's pretty predictable too, sticking to a very by-the-book, teen flick formula. It's slick, it's contrived, it's cheesy, it's idealistic, it hits just about every expected cliché but, despite all this, it's hard to critique this film for not being fun because if there's anything this is, it's that: fun. It's your typical switch off and shove popcorn in your mouth affair and will fare well with its target demographic.
It plays awfully similar to one film especially, the Disney Channel Original Movie, from a few years back, Princess Protection Programme, which saw Demi Lovato's princess (the equivalent to Steinfeld's assassin) come from their life and have to adjust to being normal - with some disastrous results - before getting used to it, becoming popular, getting with the popular guy (only to realise she likes the nerd more) before a situation arises which brings out their past life. It's funny because Barely Lethal itself feels very much like the kind of film you'd see playing on Disney Channel on a Friday night - just with some ramped up violence and language - almost like the indirect sequel to the aforementioned TV film. From the way the film plays out to the pretty basic dialogue to the characters, this really seems like a DCOM at heart. That's not necessarily a bad thing though because it would appear to be one of the better, more entertaining ones.
The characters are all pretty standard here but the stellar cast elevate the stock characters. Steinfeld makes a kick ass agent and you believe that she really could take out a room full of bad guys whilst also buying into her vulnerability as a teenager, trying to fit in. We've all been in her shoes at one point, just trying to make an impression. Sophie Turner also turns in a nice performance here too, as do Samuel L. Jackson and Jessica Alba - both who look like they're having a blast. The latter makes a sexy, imposing and pretty good antagonist whilst the former basically just plays Nick Fury 2.0. However, it's Dove Cameron that really steals the show here. Considering this movie feels like a Disney Channel one and the actress has a show on the network, she really feels at home in this environment. She sells her character Liz well - the arrogant, cba-type teen we always have - and her relationship with Steinfeld is fun to watch and grows into something sweet, endearing and raw towards the end.
At the end of the day, Barely Lethal isn't redefining the coming-of-age genre but it's still a pretty fun twist on a known method. The premise is engaging enough to keep you watching, as is the character interaction and just the attachment and relatability of these teens. You know the story by now but there's enough wit and heart and wonder in this upbeat, quirky project to put a smile on your face and leave you pretty satisfied. The action is fine, as is the cinematography and the comedy even flows from time to time. It's a teen flick, nothing more but nothing less either.
Barely Lethal is a nice blend of espionage and coming-of-age to make what is a competent and fun, if never too memorable - nor unique - teen flick.
About the Author
Founder of Oasis Awais, and avid lover of life, Awais Irfan's love of writing and film is unequivocal. Ever since he was a little kid, he has loved the cinematic experience; so much so, he is studying Film Production in Glasgow and hopes to be the next "big thing" in directing.