20th May2015

‘Barely Lethal’ Review

by Phil Wheat

Stars: Hailee Steinfeld, Dove Cameron, Thomas Mann, Samuel L. Jackson, Jessica Alba, Sophie Turner, Jaime King, Dan Fogler, Rachael Harris, Alexandra Krosney, Gabriel Basso, Toby Sebastian, Steve-O, Rob Huebel | Written by John D’Arco | Directed by Kyle Newman

barely-lethal-poster

Sometimes it pays to have friends with cable TV in the States. Otherwise I’m sure I’d be waiting for ages to see this, the latest film from Kyle Newman, director of the love letter to Star Wars and its fans – the awesome Fanboys. Barely Lethal is one of those films that will, sadly, probably fly under the radar of many, especially here in the UK where Newman’s aforementioned film was treated shabbily, suffering a few delays before eventually being dumped on DVD and Blu-ray, after a screening at Frightfest of all places! Honestly, I am a HUGE fan of Fanboys (morse so than the Star Wars films themselves) so I’ve been tracking this movie’s release for quite some time. Hopefully star Hailee Steinfeld’s appearance in Pitch Perfect 2 will raise the profile of the film here in the UK. Emphasis on hopefully, as Barely Lethal is a fantastic entry into the genre!

The film sees Newman return to feature directing – after a few years helming mostly music videos – with a movie that’s part Spy Kids, part James Bond, part traditional coming-of-age teen flick. Barely Lethal stars Hailee Steinfeld as teenage special ops agent-come-assassin Megan who, in the middle of a mission, bails out on her job and and her “boss” Hardman (Jackson) by faking her own death. Initiating her secret “high school plan”, Megan enrols in a student exchange program and soon becomes a part of high school – subjected to the pressures and life being in this environment, making her assassin years look easy in the process!

It seems, at least judging by Pitch Perfect 2 and now this movie, that Hailee Steinfeld’s new “schtick” is to be the clumsy new girl. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing… Her ability to mix enthusiasm, wide-eyed innocence (also on display in Pitch Perfect 2) and yet still kick-ass convincingly really helps sell the premise of Barely Lethal. Well that and her rapport with her co-stars Dove Cameron and Thomas Mann, both of whom manage to make more of their characters that even the script allows. Cameron in particular, once her character comes out of her shell, really shines.

In all honesty, there’s nothing new about Barely Lethal – to be fair there wasn’t in Fanboys either – however that doesn’t stop the film from being a great example of the very genre in which it lives. The script, from first-time feature writer John D’Arco, is on point, barely (pun intended) missing a beat; cramming in plenty of teen movie tropes alongside the “undercover spy” movie cliches. And a few years ago this would have been a star vehicle for the likes of Amanda Bynes or Miley Cyrus, for it shares a lot of themes and stereotypes found in films like She’s the Man (the fish out of water aspect of the story) and in particular Cyrus’ 2012 star vehicle So Undercover. And if you, like I, enjoy both of those movies, then you’re on to a sure-fire winner with Newman’s latest directorial opus.

Fair enough this film is not going to set the world alight but Barely Lethal does deserve much, much, more than to debut on VOD. Here’s hoping the US cinema release generates some much-needed positive word-of-mouth for Kyle Newman’s latest flick. After all this is one director who, like Kevin Smith before him, really knows how to reach his audience – teen movie loving, pop culture savvy nerds… like me!

**** 4/5

Barely Lethal is available on DirectTV now, the film is released in US cinemas on May 29th. The UK release hits cinemas and VOD from 28st August.

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