Barely Lethal [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Lions Gate Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (22nd August 2015).
The Film

Trained from birth to be a teenage operative at the top secret Prescott school for orphans, 83 (Hailee Steinfeld) proves proficient in training exercises despite an innate desire to make friends in a trade where "To be a Prescott is to be an island" according to her stern trainer Hardman (Samuel L. Jackson). When she is activated and sent out into the real world – incurring the jealousy of rival 84 (Sophie Turner) – 83 manages to complete her missions without killing her targets; however, in tracking them she starts to realize how much she has been missing of normal life. Watching Mean Girls, Bring It On, Clueless, 10 Things I Hate About You, boxed sets of 90210, reading teen magazines, and spritzing herself with Ke$ha's new fragrance, 83 researches what it is to be a teenager. After capturing ruthless arms dealer Victoria Knox (Jessica Alba) alive in Chechnya, 83 decides to fake her death in order to have quintessential teenage experiences by posing as a Canadian exchange student Megan Walsh and enrolling at an American high school. The happy-looking host family she has picked out turn out to be freshly-divorced Penny Larson (Rachael Harris), her moody teenage daughter Liz (Dove Cameron), and hyper spy-enthusiast young son Parker (Jason Ian Drucker). On her first day of school, Megan finds it to be an altogether different battleground where, nevertheless, "There are vicious, self-absorbed sociopaths out to get me!" Her imagined Canadian accent, pronunciation of her hometown of Regina (think about it), her hip hairstyle, and wardrobe choices are subjects of ridicule. In the romance department, Megan soon finds herself in a pun-tastic "just friends" relationship with A/V geek Roger (Thomas Mann) – who, despite her research, she does not recognize as the sweet guy she will end up with – while lusting after school band Emoticon's dreamy lead singer Cash (Toby Sebastian). Wary of "mean girls", she shuns the actually nice cheerleaders but falls for the ill-intentioned advice of gluten-free duo Cindy (Alexandra Krosney) and (Emma Holzer) who advise her to audition for the Vikings mascot since emo-y Cash supposedly loves school spirit. When the white van stalking Megan turns out not to be her former spy colleagues come to get her but jocks from the rival school out to kidnap the mascot, her acrobatic takedown of the guys becomes a viral sensation that simultaneously makes her an overnight hit with the student body while also exposing her double life to Hardman who wants her back. 84 is out to wreck Megan's social life by moving in on burgeoning relationships with both Roger and Cash, but Knox has escaped and is out for revenge on prom night.

Although a harmless and humorous diversion for adults and young adults (the film may be more entertaining for younger audiences looking forward to being teenagers if not for its PG-13-might-be-R-if-it-went-theatrical elements), Barely Lethal is a bit of sad return for the current incarnation of the once great RKO Pictures (whose previous release was 2012's A Late Quartet). The end result feels as half-thought-out as Megan's teenage profile. The clumping of high school movie clichés are of course appropriate to the protagonist's goal, but everything pretty much happens as expected even with the intrusion of the film's action movie elements. It may be the point that teenage life is hard no matter who you are, but the film just fails to deliver its message with any sense of originality. The filmmakers might have been ribbing producer Brett Ratner about his sleazy public persona in the form of creepily inappropriate chemistry teacher Mr. Drumm (Dan Fogler), but an F-bomb, dick jokes, and cracks about date rape – including the antics of "misunderstood" jock Gooch (Gabriel Basso) who Liz has nicknamed "Rape It Ralph" – do not make this film as subversive as it wants to seem. The action choreography is intermittently diverting, but it is difficult to determine if the cheap digital visual effects are the reason LionsGate did not try for a theatrical release or if the effects are so bad because the film was not going to straight to digital platforms and physical media. Steinfeld is funny and sympathetic but her character's relationships with Cameron and Turner are mostly sidelined in favor of the romantic stuff which is more predictable. Alba is surprisingly bearable in pretty much a cameo (with a character that could have used some more depth considering how aspects of her character reflects on those of 83 and 84), but Jackson is really phoning it in. Out of the adults, Harris' character could have been given more to do while the film seems almost ridiculously indulgent in its screentime for Rob Huebel's out of touch trying to be hip parent (whose ramblings are supposed to be funny but quickly wear out their welcome). Director Kyle Newman's wife Jamie King has a cameo in the opening sequence. About the highest recommendation I can give the film is that it held my interest sufficiently when I find most contemporary teenage movies unwatchable.


Shot on Red Cameras at 5K and then mastered in 2K, Barley Lethal's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.85:1 widescreen looks appropriately slick, showcasing some attractive but bland photography but also emphasizing just how unconvincing every visual effect is from the digital matte shots to various aircrafts and even the helicopter spotlight scanning a post-production-darkened closing shot (some murkiness in darker shots is also the effect of post-production level adjustments rather than actual underexposure).


The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track gets the job done in general, but only really comes to life during the action scenes. Nothing will really jolt you in an unpredictable manner, but that has as much to do with the predictability of everything onscreen as the mix.


Extras start off with an audio commentary by director Kyle Newman & actors Dove Cameron and Thomas Mann which is an easy-going track with the amiable-sounding director is able to sound like he is both speaking to the listener and his fellow commentators about the blending to tones, achieving the scope of the early sequences on a low budget (including the cartoon montage title sequence and the modular sets of production designer Andrew Neskoromny). He also points out tiny details that go by unnoticed by the viewers and the two actors, whose commentary is more anecdotal apart from the usual platitudes (the absence of Steinfeld is felt on the track considering the focus on her character).

In "Back to School: On the Set of 'Barley Lethal'" (10:45), director Newman, producer Ratner, and the cast talk about the project's origins, turning high school movie conventions on their head with the characters' knowledge of pop culture, and share their real high school experiences (and getting to re-experience high school in the film as cooler people). The deleted scenes (6:49) are not particularly eye-opening but do shed some additional light on the childhood rivalry between 83 and 84. The disc also includes start-up trailers for a handful of other LionsGate titles (only a couple of which are aimed at the feature's target audience).



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