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Barely Lethal (2015)
Written by John D’Arco
Directed by Kyle Newman
Agent 83 is the top student of the Prescott Academy, a black ops facility where orphaned girls are turned into skilled killers for the U.S. government. Agent 83’s class are in their late teens, and she is beginning to yearn for a domestic life that was never provided for her. A chance to escape comes during the capture of arms dealer Victoria Knox when Agent 83 is presumed dead. Using her knowledge of teen movies, she passes herself off as a Canadian exchange student for the Larson family in a small American town. 83 goes through a fish out of water period but seems finally to be integrating herself into daily life. But that’s when her rival Agent 84 shows up with plans to ruin 83’s fun.
There is a seed of a good idea in Barely Lethal. However, it was given to such talentless writers filmmakers with a woefully inadequate budget for the type of movie it was trying to be. A secret spy girl hiding out as a high school student is silly but not inherently bad. It all relies on execution and especially choosing the right tone. Barely Lethal is obviously influenced by movies like Kick-Ass and will inevitably be compared to Kingsmen. It wants to be those movies but never goes to the violent extremes of those movies. There are still people being shot and stabbed, just no blood on screen. But it also wants to be this light and silly teen comedy. There’s somewhere in between where all of this can work, but this movie is unable to find it.
Barely Lethal references films that are much better than it is, which only highlights why we should watch those movies instead. The Breakfast Club and Mean Girls are name-dropped the most, and if Barely Lethal thinks it is on par with them, it is sorely mistaken. The humor presented in this movie reads like lame jokes penned by Bruce Vilanch. There are lots of teenage girls calling each other “bitch” and making catty remarks about each other’s bodies and clothes. This type of “humor” combined with the implication of the movie’s title (barely legal) leaves the viewer with a sense of discomfort about what exactly this film is supposed to be.
I cannot imagine a teen audience enjoying this movie because its portrayal doesn’t even present an interesting stylized take on high school. Adult audiences aren’t going to go in for the shoddy writing and obviously low budget. Near the end of the movie, there is an embarrassing night time green screen moment that I was genuinely shocked to see in a feature film. I almost think that if the writer had fully committed to the killer spy angle and made the picture an over the top bloody, violent film, it would have worked better. At least it would have had a point of view rather than existing as this overblown sitcom.