Barely Lethal Review: Samuel L Jackson Teams Up With Jessica Alba in this film
Hit-Girl has a lot to answer for. The 11-year-old schoolgirl assassin. Played by Chloë Grace Moretz in the superhero satire Kick-Ass, is one of the most divisive film characters in recent memory. (Empowering or exploitative? Button-pusher or taboo-buster?) But however dim your view of her samurai-sword-slicing antics, you had to concede she was totally unexpected. A pink-and-purple sledgehammer swung at you from out of the shadows.
Barely Lethal (Dac Vu Kute) the queasily titled new teen comedy from Fanboys director Kyle Newman. Imagines a training camp for teenage girl assassins that’s funded by the US government: it’s more or less Hit-Girl goes public sector. Hailee Steinfeld, who played Mattie Ross in the Coen brothers’ version of True Grit, is Agent 83, who absconds from the programme and enrols. A little too easily, in a high school exchange programme. Allowing her to sample a much-longed-for ordinary teenage life.
Everything 83 knows about high school was learned from classic teen movies such as Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club, but while the film’s main joke (it only has a couple) is that American teenagers aren’t much like John Hughes characters any more, it doesn’t seem to have much of an idea what they are like. There are none of 21 Jump Street’s sly comic subversions of formula here. The energised rejections of it that made Drew Barrymore’s enormously underrated Whip It! so thrilling. Instead, 83 just pootles around house parties and sports days ham-fistedly doing her best to fit in. Occasionally, her assassin training emerges at inopportune moments, which is joke number two of two.
Samuel L Jackson and Jessica Alba in Barely Lethal
Samuel L. Jackson turns up very occasionally as 83’s mentor. As does Jessica Alba as a nonspecific super-criminal, while Sophie Turner (Sansa Stark from Game of Thrones) is ill-served by an almost completely superfluous role as 83’s rival, 84. Another Game of Thrones alumnus, Toby Sebastian, plays the high school heartthrob Cash, who looks as if he’s just emerged from the imaginary boyfriend machine in Inside Out. Cash is the lead singer in a band call “Emotacon”. And there’s no indication in the film that their misspelled name is supposed to be funny, or even intentional.
Once in a while, the action film (phim hanh dong my) does flash some unexpected wit: most memorably in a scene in which 83. And her exchange partner Liz (Dove Cameron) talk in an excited whisper about what it must feel like to kill someone. While Liz’s mother eavesdrops at the door. Their conversation closely resembles the kind of conversation teenagers often have about a certain other much-agonised-over first time. And the echo is funny and cutely transgressive. That’s the template for how Barely Lethal might and should have worked. 10 more of those scenes and we might have had a movie.