Barely Lethal (2015): Hailee Steinfeld High School Assassin (Review)

Hailee Steinfeld as 83 in Barely Lethal

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.

Sophie Turner plays Agent 84/Heather and GoT fans will recognize her as Sansa Stark. Also appearing in a main role is Toby Sebastian who plays rock star Cash Fenton and he is Trystane Martell in GoT.

“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.

RoboCop (2014) Decent Remake Sans the Quirky Humor

Poster for RoboCop
Perhaps the most noticeable thing missing in the RoboCop 2014 remake, directed by José Padilha (Elite Squad, Elite Squad: The Enemy Within) are the quirky commercials, “I’d buy that for a dollar,” and the sunscreen that gives the user skin cancer are just a few of the adverts that made the first 1987 version, the Peter Weller starring Paul Verhoeven directed tongue in cheek thriller so beloved by its fans, that little bit special.

RoboCop the remake had a good amount of big names attached to it. Samuel L. Jackson, Gary Oldman, Michael Keaton, who would go on to give a brilliant performance in the oscar winning film Birdman: Or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) in the same year. The original did not rely so much on names to sell the film and Weller was shot to prominence as a result of his portrayal of Alex P. Murphy.

In RoboCop, Keaton plays the Ronnie Cox character and Swedish actor Joel Kinnaman is the Peter Weller in this updating of the cult classic film. In this telling of the man/robot crime fighter the female partner, played by Nancy Allen in the original, has been replaced by Michael Kenneth Williams and Murphy’s wife and child play a huge part in the film, too much so.

Added to the mix are Patrick Garrow as Kurtwood Smith’s replacement, and what a shallow replacement he turned out to be, and Jackie Earle Haley as a new, and totally arsehole-ish character not in the 1987 film. While the film entertains, it lack the humor and the pathos of the first one. Murphy feels different and does not have the same impact that Weller’s RoboCop had.

Having said that, the film is good. One still feels sorry for Kinnaman’s Murphy but from the very beginning when he wakes up as the “tin-man” this Alex is much more aware. In the first film, Murphy is in shock for a long time and it is only his former partner’s persistence that enables him to regain his humanity.

I personally missed the over-the-top villainy of Kurtwood Smith’s character. Clarence J. Boddicker is an icon as perhaps the most despicable bad guy in cinema history. Smith, who later went on to become the beloved Red in That ’70s Show, would most assuredly been a hard act to follow so it makes a certain amount of sense that the filmmakers did not even bother to try.

Gone too is the outright hostility and mistrust by the other Detroit police officers. Still, despite the differences, I enjoyed the film and found Samuel L. Jackson’s Pat Novak amusing. The overall storyline was satisfying enough and the only real complaint, apart from the missing “I’d buy that for a dollar,” was the arcade feel to the shoot outs.

RoboCop 2014 is available on US Netflix right now and definitely worth a look. 3.5 out of 5 stars. Points lost for lack of quirky humor and no Nancy Allen or Peter Weller cameos…

Agents of SHIELD: Captain America Best Season Tie in Ever

Agents of SHIELD: Captain America Best Season Tie in Ever

Last night’s 16th episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was the episode that fans of the television show and big screen Marvel hero films had been waiting for; the Captain America tie in was the best ever. Of course it was pretty much sign posted in last week’s episode’s by the closing moments when it turned out that Agent May was keeping an eye on Agent Coulson and reporting on his actions.

Oldboy Spike Lee Remake of Chan-wook Park Classic Film a Letdown (Review)

Oldboy Spike Lee Remake of Chan-wook Park Classic Film a Letdown (Review)

In 2003 Chan-wook Park released his second in the “vengeance trilogy” Oldboy to overall positive reviews and it became a cult favorite as well as an almost instant classic film and Spike Lee opted to remake the film in 2013 with an end result that is a letdown to say the least. As the film is due for release on Blu-ray March 4 this year, it seems appropriate to take a look at both films and see why Lee’s vision doesn’t really work and why Park’s satisfies all the parts that the new film cannot reach. Being kind, it can be said that in terms of casting; Lee hit pay dirt. In this respect he matches Park’s cast very well…

Quentin Tarantino Reviving The Hateful Eight?

Quentin Tarantino Reviving The Hateful Eight?

Looks like none of those “ten other stories” that Quentin Tarantino had up his sleeve sounded as good as his Western homage The Hateful Eight and he may be reviving it from the realms of the shelf. The Pulp Fiction director threw a fit earlier when a website got hold of his draft first script of the film that he says was to be a homage to The Magnificent Seven and leaked it all over the Internet.

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