Barely Lethal
dir Kyle Newman
scr John D'Arco
prd Brett Ratner, John Cheng, Vanessa Coifman, Ted Hartley, Sukee Chew
with Hailee Steinfeld, Thomas Mann, Sophie Turner, Dove Cameron, Toby Sebastian, Gabriel Basso, Samuel L Jackson, Jessica Alba, Rachael Harris, Jason Ian Drucker, Rob Huebel, Dan Fogler
release US 29.May.15, UK 28.Aug.15
15/US RKO 1h36
Barely Lethal
Murder on the dancefloor: Steinfeld and Cameron

mann turner sebastian
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Barely Lethal Bright and chirpy, this pastiche comedy-thriller plays out like a prepubescent girl's fantasy, using every teen movie cliche imaginable. But it's funny enough to keep us smiling, even in its silliest moments. And it even has a slight whiff of meaningful subtext.

After her parents died, Megan (Steinfeld) was raised in a secret government agency where Hardman (Jackson) trained her to be a killer. When a mission goes wrong, she allows the agency to think she has died so she can go live a normal teenage life. She poses as an exchange student in small-town America, hosted by Mrs Larson (Harris), whose surly daughter Liz (Cameron) and bratty son Parker (Drucker) give her the family she has never known. She also instantly develops a crush on rock-star Cash (Sebastian), while nice-guy geek Roger (Mann) falls for her.

Of course, Megan's past has to catch up with her, and when Hardman locates her he sends her rival agent Heather (Turner) into the school undercover. This adds an amusing slant on the usual mean-girl scenario as things escalate into the requisite action chaos. Despite the smart parody, the script is relentlessly simplistic, never veering too far from 1990s teen movie tropes, including the pep rally, parents-away party and homecoming dance before the banalities of the thriller genre take over.

Steinfeld is solid as the super-spy trying to be a normal 16-year-old, revelling in every experience and blissfully unaware that her high school movie references are badly out of date. Still, just like in the movies, everyone plays right into her hands. Mann and Sebastian are terrific as the two boys who like her, as is Basso as the class clown who meets his match. But the most interesting role goes to Cameron, who reveals Liz's insecurities in unexpected ways.

Newman directs the film with a lively sense of humour and plenty of energy, making sure the story skips along amiably while occasionally touching on real emotions. As a story about a teen trying to live life on her own terms, it's more perceptive than it seems. It's just a shame the filmmakers couldn't come up with some original plot points to go with the offhanded high school vibe, because as enjoyable as the twists are, the big action climax is just silly.

cert 15 themes, language, violence, innuendo 17.Jul.15

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