A 16-year-old international assassin yearning for a "normal" adolescence fakes her own death and enrolls as a senior in a suburban high school. She quickly learns that being popular can be more painful than getting water-boarded.
'Barely Lethal' is one of those action-comedies that I suspect looked terrific as a screenplay, but doesn't quite translate into the movie I'm guessing the filmmakers hoped to achieve. There are exchanges of dialogue that, if you listen carefully to the words that are being said, may have made for very entertaining moments, but the delivery by the actors is just totally off. The result is a movie that isn't as good as it probably should have been, and one that I can't quite recommend.
There's no shortage of solid actors in the movie, starting with star Hailee Steinfeld, who plays teenager Megan Walsh, an orphan who has been raised inside a secret government program (led by none other than the always-entertaining Samuel L. Jackson) that turns her and others like her into deadly secret agents. This, in and of itself, is a pretty nifty idea for a movie, and most of the good parts of 'Barely Lethal' come from this premise. However, a big chunk of the story winds up just being another typical high school comedy about a girl that doesn't quite fit in with her peers.
The high school aspect of the movie kicks into gear when Megan winds up missing/presumed dead during an ops mission and sees it as her chance to escape her sheltered life as a secret agent and finally find out what the real world is like. She puts herself up as an exchange student and soon finds herself with a single-parent family and in high school for the first time. This is also more or less the point where the movie became much less interesting for me, although I suppose its target audience (teenagers – particularly females) might enjoy these bits more.
The high school material is more or less stuff we've seen in dozens of other movies before, and the fact that this title continually references those films – particularly Mean Girls, which this movie pales in comparison to – doesn't help matters. Despite the fact that the film peppers in Megan's abilities as a secret agent into the high school plot, this is the typical tale about a girl who has her eyes on the wrong guy (a musician played by Toby Sebastian) even though the right guy (an A/V geek played by Thomas Mann) is right in front of her.
The movie has been directed by Kyle Newman, best known for Fanboys, and in addition to the presence of Samuel L. Jackson, he's peppered his movie with familiar faces like Jessica Alba, Rachael Harris, Sophie Turner, and even 'Fanboys' own Dan Fogler. However, many of the actors, I'm sad to say, give the impression that they'd rather be anywhere else, and are only there to cash a paycheck and/or as a favorite to the director, studio, or one of the producers.
I can't really recommend 'Barely Lethal', but I suppose it's worth a rental (or checking out on cable at some point) if you're a particular fan of any of these actors, the director, or the overall theme of the movie. Visually speaking (aside from a few really obvious green-screen shots), it's not a bad-looking title, but a little more time needed spent, I think, putting the movie together. Kyle Newman says on the bonus materials here that this was a quick, 30-day shoot. That probably made the studio happy, but it also shows in the finished product. 'Barely Lethal' is not a horrible movie, but it's not a very good one, either.
The Blu-Ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Barely Lethal' shoots its way onto Blu-ray in a eco-friendly Elite keepcase, which houses the single-layer 25GB Blu-ray along with an insert containing a code for an UltraViolet digital copy of the movie. The Blu-ray is front-loaded with trailers for Ex Machina, Slow West, The DUFF, The Spectacular Now, and The Bling Ring. The main menu consists of a video montage of footage from the movie, with selections running across the bottom of the screen.
The Blu-ray in this release is Region A-locked.
'Barely Lethal' was shot digitally on Red Epic cameras at the 1.85:1 aspect radio. As is the case with most digitally shot movies transferred to Blu-ray, the transfer here looks pretty good, although it's not without its problems. While most of the footage outdoors has the kind of depth and 'pop' one would hope for, a lot of indoor scenes are dimly lit and suffer from the lack of lighting. There's a high school dance at the end of the movie that doesn't nearly look as cool as it might because of the dimness of the picture and a resulting 'flat' look to the 1080p transfer.
In terms of any glitches, I did notice a few instances of banding throughout the movie, but nothing in terms of aliasing or pixilation, although there is just a tad of noise in some of those darker scenes that I mentioned above. Despite a few problems, however, the overall presentation is pretty colorful, sharp, and pleasant enough to watch.
The only audio option here is a lossless English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track, which isn't nearly as aggressive as I thought it might be, considering both the amount of action and the number of soundtrack tunes spread throughout the movie. Make no mistake, the rear speakers are certainly used throughout to enhance both the music and the action, but everything seems to have been turned down a notch, resulting in a soundtrack that seems very front-heavy instead of properly mixed.
Still, despite being far from impressive, the lossless 5.1 track does offer crisp dialogue, distinct and separate sounds, and – to my ear at least – seemed free of any noticeable glitches like dropouts. It's one of those audio tracks that may not necessarily 'wow', but doesn't take away from one's enjoyment, either.
Subtitles are available in English, English SDH, and Spanish.
'Barely Lethal' is one of those movies that must have looked great on paper, but lost something in the translation from page to screen. It's not a horrible film, but there's a lack of freshness and fun here, despite the presence of a number of 'name' actors. This is one of those movies you'll watch and perhaps even enjoy a scene here or there, but will quickly forget about shortly thereafter. Rent It.