Directed by Kyle Newman and written by John D’Arco “Barely Lethal” is a light trip down teen action comedy lane with Hailee Steinfeld as Agent 83/Megan Walsh. A teen orphan who has been trained to be a black ops assassin practically from birth. The girl is good at her job, the first to be field ready, but she longs to be a real teenager. High school, boys, classes on normal subjects and the school prom are all things Megan dreams of.
During a mission to capture the deadly Victoria Knox (Jessica Alba) Megan is almost shot by the arms dealer and escapes by plunging into a river. Hardman (Samuel L Jackson), her handler, tries to contact his best agent. Megan decides to disappear and the leader of Prescot believes her to be dead.
Megan, who has been researching teenage life. by watching teen romance films, becomes an exchange student from Canada and picks a family to lodge with so she can experience high school. As can be expected this does not go to plan and becomes a comedy of errors as this trained assassin learns how to be a normal American teenager.
Along the way she dates the school’s rock star heart throb, falls in love and helps to save the day with her adopted family. (Headed up by the delightful Rachael Harris.) Megan even manages to become a YouTube sensation.
The video brings her to the attention of Hardman who tracks her down and interrogates his agent to see who she is working for.
The film is amusing and aimed at a younger demographic. Jackson’s character never uses one swear word throughout and Alba is excellent as the arms dealer with an impish attitude toward her capture. There are a couple of familiar faces that Game of Throne fans will appreciate.
“Barely Lethal” has very little in the way of bloodshed, but does feature a fair amount of choreographed violence. There are no underage sex scenes, all the school kids are around 16 years old, there is a tiny bit of underage drinking and kids trained to kill.
Steinfeld is spot on as the dreamy assassin who really does not have a clue what real high school is like. Alba almost steals the film and another scene stealer is young Jason Ian Drucker (in what was only his second feature) who plays Parker Larson, the ninja obsessed little brother of Liz (Dove Cameron).
Overall a bit of fun along the lines of “Agent Cody Banks” but with a twist and a female protagonist. It is an interesting take. Having a strong female lead follow her childhood dream of being a normal teenager and having problems from moment one is funny. Her research, watching films like “Mean Girls” to learn about teen life in school, was priceless.
There are gags that work less well. The inept parent of Roger (Thomas Mann) was an overused trope that is in almost every Disney and teen production made in the last 10 years. So too is the fawning science teacher who plays favorites with Cash.
On a more positive note, Rachael Harris as Mrs. Larson was a cool mum who knew when to step in to offer advice and when to back off. Unusual to see in any teen film and a sign of intelligent film making.
With an opening for a sequel it will be interesting to see what, if anything, follows. There are some comic gems, in terms of “one liners” and Alba’s character gets the best one. When she is appended by Hardman’s crew of teen agents, she looks around and says he is still using “double oh seven year olds.” Unexpected and quite funny.
Rotten Tomatoes was not overly flattering about the film; citing a confusing target audience and a “scattered script” but over all it is amusing and at just over an hour and a half running length is worth viewing at least once.
“Barely Lethal” comes in as a 3.5 star film. Not overly intelligent or deep but good for a laugh and some fun performances from Jackson, Alba and Steinfeld. Streaming on Amazon prime at the moment it is well worth a look.