If you think being an assassin is hard, try high school!
That’s the central joke repeated ad nauseam in Barely Lethal. Hailee Steinfeld stars as Megan Walsh, also known as “83,” a teen assassin who’s trained all her life at Prescott, an elite facility for orphaned girls. Here, Prescott’s emotionless leader Hardman (Samuel L. Jackson) barks orders like “No attachments!” and “Bad intentions, ladies!” Megan’s at the top of her class, but there’s a problem: She doesn’t want to be an assassin. She just wants to go to high school like a normal kid, so she fakes her own death and heads to suburbia, posing as a foreign exchange student.
Barely Lethal tries to be a lot of things. It wants to poke fun at high school clichés like 21 Jump Street did (e.g.: Cheerleaders are nice now? Mean Girls was wrong!), while still following the teen love triangle script (the sweet geek or the vapid popular dude?). It wants to be a self-aware action movie like Kingsman: The Secret Service and a poignant tale of a girl who just wants a family.
We’re expected to sympathize with Megan without knowing anything of her backstory, and even Steinfeld, an Oscar nominee for True Grit, can’t quite elevate the material. Every other line of dialogue is a snarky joke, and while some are surprisingly cutting, the rest end up working against the earnestness the movie is aiming for. Jessica Alba’s Victoria Knox is a bland excuse for a villain; the same goes for Game of Thrones’ Sophie Turner as Heather, Megan’s rival.
Everyone aside from the aforementioned geek (Anthony Michael Hall lookalike Thomas Mann) and Megan’s foster family—frazzled divorcee Mrs. Larson (New Girl’s Rachael Harris), her eternally exasperated daughter Liz (Dove Cameron), and ninja-obsessed son Parker (9-year-old Jason Ian Drucker, who has impeccable delivery)—is flat and irritating. You’re better off watching Kingsman and The Breakfast Club back to back and calling it a night. C+