ByBenjamin Marlatt, writer at

Megan Walsh (Hailee Steinfeld) is a 16-year-old assassin in training under the leadership of Hardman (Samuel L. Jackson). Denied of a normal childhood because of her training and longing to experience adolescence, she fakes her death and enrolls in the student exchange program. Though the pressures of high school turn out to be more than she bargained for, they still end up being the least of Megan’s worries when she learns that international terrorist Victoria Knox (Jessica Alba) is coming after her.

Barely Lethal comes from director Kyle Newman, whose last feature film was the comedy Fanboys, a film that turned out to be surprisingly enjoyable in spite of all of its re-shoot and re-edit controversy centering around a verbally bitter Steven Brill, who was brought in to direct the re-shoots (given Brill’s shitty resume, he’s one of the last guys I’d recommend for re-shoots). His third feature film is a cross between Mean Girls and Kick-Ass, or at least wants to be.

And this film proves that wanting to do something and actually succeeding at doing something are two entirely different things.

While there were some missteps here and there in Fanboys, Newman managed to deliver its satirical and referential humor toward the Star Wars fanboy culture in a fun and snappy manner. Barely Lethal is barely fun and will barely keep you awake as it laboriously drags its way through its promising enough premise. On paper, it may have a similar vibe to Matthew Vaughn’s Kick-Ass and Kingsman, but what we get onscreen is a film that has no bite in the humor, nor is there any style given to the action, two aspects Vaughn does so well in his films.

But although the buck always stops with the director, as it should, I can’t place all the blame on Newman ’cause I don’t even think a director as stylish as Vaughn could bring any life to John D’Arco’s generic and half-assed script which would be lucky enough to get the green light on ABC Family.

That would say a lot coming from a network that dished out signed checks to make Pizza My Heart, The Karate Dog, Holiday in Handcuffs and Revenge of the Bridesmaids.

D’Arco’s script is guilty of many sins. Being lazy and unfunny (although I’ll admit I got a kick out of Megan using her particular set of skills to put on one hell of a mascot audition that you’ll never see a high school mascot pull off) are two of them. Hardly introducing us to this secret organization that trains girls to be assassins since they’re little kids is another. A piss-poorly written villain with a piss-poor motive is another. Naming the film “Barely Lethal”, a play on words with a title associated with porn and not high school comedies or spy films, is another. It’s most egregious sin committed though is the very same one that Vampire Academy committed last year. Remember how that film was bragging how “not Twilight” it was? Remember how it waved that flag proudly – well, at least until it ended turning into pretty much another Twilight movie? Likewise, Barely Lethal is dying for you to notice how in on the high school comedy jokes it is – well, at least until it just ends up devolving into another high school comedy.

With a prom and everything. How magical!

Hailee Steinfeld really does try, and it’s not her fault the material does her no favors (saying yes to this project, however, is). She and Thomas Mann, another up-and-coming young actor, are able to generate some natural chemistry together. Their effort is evident, which is a lot more than can be said about Samuel L. Jackson (finally looking bored over the 500 projects he says “Whatever… sure” to each year) and Jessica Alba. I swear I saw those two check their watches on more than one occasion at exactly the same time I did.

You have any idea what that says about this film when even the leading lady from Good Luck Chuck, the Fantastic Four films and The Love Guru says fuck it, I’ll just phone it in?

Though there are a few clever jabs at high school film cliches, the tackily titled Barely Lethal is both a high school comedy that brings no wit or punch to its jokes and a spy thriller that brings no style or energy. Hailee Steinfeld puts in an honest day’s work here, but this film doesn’t do much, if anything, to deserve someone as talented as she is. Give it about a month and this barely noticeable film will be barely clinging to life at the bottom of a Redbox before its true calling arrives – a date with destiny that is a 2 AM time slot on TeenNick.

I give Barely Lethal a D (★).

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