So I watched Barely Lethal…
There are times when my love for cinema leads me down some dark paths. I had the sense to not pay to see this movie at the cinema but I couldn’t resist watching it home. I couldn’t sit through this movie’s entire trailer so I don’t know why I thought watching it would be any better? In the end, I need to watch movies to keep this blog going and sometimes that means sitting through a bad movie or two.
Okay, basic plot: The Prescott Academy is an elite spy-training facility that is headed by Hardman (Samuel L. Jackson). Prescott specialises in the training of young girls. Agent 84 (Hailee Steinfeld) is the academy’s top student but she’s always longed for the fun and thrills of normal teenage life. One day while out on a mission to take out the villainous international terrorist Victoria Knox (Jessica Alba), Agent 84 fakes her death and embarks to discover what a ‘normal’ life could be like. Posing as an exchange student, she takes up the identity of Megan Walsh – a dorky teen from Canada. Megan soon realises that teenage life is far more complicated than described in the movies, especially when you have an international terrorist after you.
Samuel L. Jackson appeared in quite a few movies in 2015 (five, in fact) and I felt that two of them (Barely Lethal & Big Game) were both released past their expiry date. I felt Big Game should have been released in the 80’s and this film should have been released at least twelve years ago. The early 2000’s where when outlandish teen films like this were king. Unfortunately, it was released in 2015 – which isn’t the real problem; the real problem is that the film is packaged like it was made in the early 2000’s. This film feels so outdated and is completely devoid of any modern style.
I wasn’t there when this film was written but I’m 100% sure that the screenwriter – John D’Arco – watched Agent Cody Banks then immediately after that watched Mean Girls and then started writing this script. To be honest, he probably watched a few other teen flicks from the early 2000’s, extracted every cliche he could from those stories and then compressed those cliches into a liquid; he then used this liquid as the ink in the pen with which he wrote the script. This movie doesn’t have characters, it has stereotypes: from the class clown who’s actually complex and thoughtful, to the coolest guy in the school who’s actually a boring dud, right down to the AV geek who’s the actual guy our heroine should be with. This leads to a bunch of non-interesting characters and a plot so predictable that it might as well be a connect-the-dots picture from a colouring book.
Not only is this movie a ripoff and predictable, it also isn’t real. By ‘real’ I mean that the events of the story don’t occur in a way that match the landmarks of the story. Take for example a story where two characters who dislike each other end up falling in love. For this dislike to transform into love, there needs to be a series of adventures or events that build up to the characters’ feelings changing. If two characters who hate each other suddenly become lovers with no explanation then their ‘love’ will seem fake and – as a result – any tension borne from this love will seem manufactured. That’s what happens in this movie. Characters go from enemies to best friends within the blink of an eye. It felt like the screenwriter was too lazy to add scenes to represent the transition and instead just chose to directly tell our characters how to feel.
Thomas Mann is in this movie and boy, did I feel for him. You can see that he’s trying to deliver a competent performance but everyone around him is just phoning it in and ruining his work. Hailee Steinfeld’s performance in this film is lacking…lacking heart, lacking charm, lacking commitment; take your pick. This is a silly film and it’s clear that the people making the film were trying to make a silly film but Steinfeld never finds the balance between just being silly and having funny, and actually putting in a competent performance. Jessica Alba and Samuel L. Jackson make better work of finding this balance but it’s in no way their best work.
Overall, Barely Lethal tries to be this silly, spoof-like homage to teen movies but just ends up being a complete ripoff. The script is unoriginal and uninspired, as is the acting with only Thomas Mann putting in a watchable performance. Rather take a trip back to the early 2000’s and watch Agent Cody Banks. 3/10