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A 16-year-old international assassin yearning for a "normal" adolescence fakes her own death and enrolls as a senior in a suburban high school. She quickly learns that being popular can be more painful than getting water-boarded.
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Barely Lethal movie full length review - Barely Lethal
Barely Lethal attempted an ambitious fusion of genres, but I didn't find it very satisfactory due to the incompatibility between its concept and its execution.
However, to be fair, director Kyle Newman and screenwriter John D'Arco found quite a complicated labor trying to combine violence and humor in a setting restricted by the formulas of the juvenile comedy and the age of the target audience; under those limited circumstances, Barely Lethal should have been horrible, but it survives (in my humble opinion) due to the competent performances and a mediocre screenplay which at least recognizes its identity crisis and never forgets its commitment to the characters' humanity. Well, "humanity" might be a bit exaggerated. Barely Lethal doesn't pretend to offer dense questionings about the morality of training young girls as professional assassins; and it doesn't expect us to take the arbitrary changes of direction of the story seriously. D'Arco is conscious of the fact that the premise is absurd, but instead of hiding it, he took advantage to create politically incorrect moments which would never exist in a Disney film, but which we can appreciate without any guilt in this irreverent movie; for example: an honest conversation about "the first time"... even though it's not exactly the "first time" we were expecting. Those ambiguous compliments don't mean that Barely Lethal is a good film; it's basically a combination of Spy Kids and Mean Girls, but without the visual creativity from the former or the sharp social commentary from the latter. In fact, the whole movie counts with a single trick: the contrast of incongruent elements to generate humor, whether it's the sweet young girl trained to kill, or the school challenges interpreted as global threats. On the positive side, the actors make a decent work in their roles. Hailee Steinfeld faces the (bland) action scenes and her character's hesitant evolution as "normal" girl with credibility, while Samuel L. Jackson makes his usual stuff, screaming orders in his obligatory "sensitive tough guy" role... but keeping the vocabulary consistent with the PG-13 rating. Even Jessica Alba makes a good work as the villain (to be fair, I have noticed quite an improvement in the most recent performances I have seen from her, specially when she plays roles which don't require long dialogs or complex emotions; I'm sorry if that sounds as an insult, but I say it as a compliment). However, my favorite performance of Barely Lethal comes from Dove Cameron, who is a graduate of the Disney Channel, but doesn't drag the vices from such "school"; on the opposite, her performance feels likable and very natural. So, Barely Lethal is a film which doesn't know what it wants, and stumbles many times in its search of sense and acceptation. I don't know whether it might be appropriate for young children, due to the casual handling of guns and violence; and the teenage audience might find it too bland and inoffensive. In my personal case, it didn't bore, and I appreciated its occasional ingenuity to combine contradictory elements, so I think I can give it a slight recommendation with wide reservations; the common sense from the reader will dictate whether it's worthy to take the risk or not. After all, I think there are occasions in which I appreciate the subversive attitude of a movie more than its narrative talent. That might be the reason why Showgirls is one of my favorite films.