There are a lot of young and charismatic performers in “Barely Lethal,” and I wanted to hug each of them, tell them how talented they are, and comfort them with the knowledge that appearing in this movie won’t ruin their careers.
This teen action/comedy is the sort of forgettable film that you make when you’re breaking into Hollywood and just want to get some credits under your belt. You get a paycheck, learn from the experience, and try to choose better projects from then on.
The strange thing is that many of the people involved are already bona fide names in showbiz.
Hailee Steinfeld, an Oscar nominee for her terrific turn in “True Grit” and part of the “Pitch Perfect” crew, is the lead. Sophie Turner, best known as Sansa Stark on HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” is the bitchy adversary. Toby Sebastian also was in “Game of Thrones” in a smaller role. Gabriel Basso was in “Super 8” and “The Kings of Sumer.” Plus Samuel L. Jackson, Jaime King and Jessica Alba turn up.
So what are they doing in this silly flick about a teen super-spy who decides she’d rather experience high school instead? I don’t know. I honestly don’t know.
It’s essentially “21 Jump Street” except instead of being a cop, Steinfeld is Agent 83 of the Prescott School for Girls, a place where orphans are raised to be deadly assassins. Jackson is the stern taskmaster. But 83 yearns for something more, and after dousing herself in a raft of teen movies like “The Breakfast Club,” she decides to fake her death and do the John Hughes thing.
Dubbing herself Megan, she poses as a foreign exchange student – from Canada! – and embeds herself with a family in wholesome Newtown. Soon she’s navigating the familiar obstacles of mean girls, clueless teachers and romantic angst.
Dove Cameron plays Liz, the acerbic daughter of her foster family, who wants nothing to do with her. Sebastian plays Cash, the dreamy wannabe rock star of the school whom all the girls swoon over, including, soon enough, Megan. Thomas Mann is Roger, the geeky-but-nice guy who develops a crush on her. Basso is the Gooch, local athlete-meathead.
Director Kyle Newman and screenwriter John D’Arco put all these actors through the familiar paces without much flair or originality. You know it’s just a matter of time before Megan’s spy life invades her high school one, with Alba playing the evil renegade agent who wants revenge on the Prescotts. The comedy is broad and the storylines worthy of cable TV.
I think “Barely Lethal” is trying to be a parody of dumb teen movies, but ends up turning into one itself. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then becoming that which you mocked must be the cruelest insult.