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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Barely Lethal (Blu-ray)
Barely Lethal (Blu-ray)
Lionsgate Home Entertainment // PG-13 // August 4, 2015 // Region A
List Price: $24.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Tyler Foster | posted August 10, 2015 | E-mail the Author
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Digital technology has changed filmmaking in many positive ways, but two of the bigger drawbacks include the way that technology can become a crutch rather than a benefit, and the death of the mid-budget studio film, something produced for $30 or $40 million. Barely Lethal perfectly encapsulates both of these problems: it's a movie that takes shortcuts at every opportunity, and one which could've been a significantly better movie with twice as much money and a major film company behind it.

The film stars Hailee Steinfeld as Megan Walsh, a young girl raised from infancy by a government agency known as the Prescott School, where orphans are trained to be government assassins. Megan is a top prospect for commander Hardman (Samuel L. Jackson), but she yearns for a normal teenage experience. When her squad helps capture one of the agency's most notorious targets, Victoria Knox (Jessica Alba), Megan uses the situation to fake her own death and apply to host families as a Canadian exchange student. She ends up with with the Larsons, which include grumpy Liz (Dove Cameron), little brother Parker (Jason Ian Drucker), and incredibly understanding mom Mrs. Larson (Rachael Harris). Despite a few learning experiences, Megan finds herself having the high school life she always wanted...that is until both Hardman and Victoria catch on to her escape plan.

Describing the things that are wrong with Barely Lethal poses a challenge in that the film's construction feels lazy and/or half-assed to the core, yet it's unlikely that anyone involved was consciously slacking off on the job. The film was directed by Kyle Newman, whose last feature film credit was Fanboys, which bears a 2009 release date but was actually slated for release as early as 2006. Newman may have the ability to complete a feature film, and undoubtedly struggled with the limits of the resources he was given, but every choice feels pedestrian, functional, run-of-the-mill. Early action scenes feel pasted together with excessive green screen work, and he has no tricks up his sleeve to make the suspiciously sparse sets feel like some sort of intentional stylistic flourish. Later hand-to-hand combat stuff has more authenticity, but still comes off as little more than point-and-shoot.

Yet, the real problems lie with the screenplay by John D'Arco, which feels less like a complete story and more like an outline that wouldn't require more than four bullet points. Although it's fine for the idea of a school for killer toddlers to be patently silly, the film lacks much in the way of internal logic. Shouldn't Hardman have several kids per class longing for the same things that Megan wants? It would make more sense for Hardman to be better at isolating his recruits from the world, and for a mission to take Megan into the school, where she discovers everything she's been missing. Instead, Megan never seems like she's cut out for the Prescott school, and it's hard to imagine her waiting so long before she decides to try and disappear. As the villain, Victoria seems to have little motivation for her actions, or much of a plan. She's just "the bad guy," pitted against Megan because someone has to be. To that end, there's also Heather (Sophie Turner), Megan's rival at Prescott. Given the film only has three real characters at the agency (Megan, Hardman, and Heather), it's not hard to guess who the agency's secret mole is. On the other hand, Heather's goals change from scene to scene, swinging from arguing over boys to actual murderous intent and back again without much rhyme or reason. Even worse, the deeper motivation behind Megan and Heather's rivalry isn't really professional, but a reductive and insulting "girly teenage jealousy" cliche (climaxing in a true low, a "tranny" joke). D'Arco is almost certainly trying to touch on Mean Girls territory, but clearly didn't understand that film's points at all.

What's truly tragic is that Barely Lethal's cast is right on the money. Hailee Steinfeld sells ferociousness and silliness in equal measure, imbues the film's predictable romantic subplot with some earnest dorkiness, and handles herself more than capably during hand-to-hand combat sequences. Samuel L. Jackson and Jessica Alba ham it up in their single scene together, with Alba embracing her character's apparent lesbianism, and all of the supporting players, including Harris and Rob Huebel (not so much Dan Fogler), make the most of what are clearly scenes designed to let talented people riff instead of, you know, providing actual material for them to work with. A really good movie could've been made from a version of this premise, especially with the same cast, but for a movie about someone aided by extensive knowledge and expert training, Barely Lethal tends to feel like it's barely trying.

The Blu-ray
As far as modern key art goes, Barely Lethal actually has a pretty good cover, one which simply and clearly illustrates the film's premise in a single picture using bold colors and clean lines. The single-disc release comes in an eco-friendly Viva Elite case, and there is an insert inside the case with the UltraViolet Digital HD redemption code.

The Video and Audio
Presented in 1.85:1 1080p AVC and DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, Barely Lethal looks and sounds adequate for a digital production. Colors are bright and pop off the screen, fine detail is strong (although the film has a pleasing element of softness around the edges), and there are no serious compression issues (some light banding at worst). As with many low-budget movies, the "action" elements of the mix are a bit on the flat and uninspiring side, with basic directional effects being used but little in the way of actual convincing immersion, although a crowd scene is surprisingly convincing. English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing and English and Spanish subtitles are also provided.

The Extras
First up is an audio commentary with director Kyle Newman and actors Dove Cameron and Thomas Mann. Although it includes the two cast members, Newman takes control of the conversation to provide more technical and behind-the-scenes information on the making of the film, while the cast members occasionally chime in with anecdotes, praise, and jokes.

Two video extras round out the package. "Back to School: On the Set of Barely Lethal" (10:45) is a fairly generic making-of featurette, with the usual blend of on-set interviews with the cast and crew, alongside a bunch of film clips. It turns out filming this high school movie was kind of like being in high school! Oh man! Seven deleted scenes (6:49) are included, none of which significantly deepen or change the viewing experience. Both are presented in HD.

Trailers for Ex Machina, Slow West, The Duff, The Spectacular Now, and The Bling Ring play before the main menu. No trailer for Barely Lethal is included.

Barely Lethal takes a strong premise and immediately runs it into the ground with a half-baked script, half-baked direction, and half of a budget. Skip it.

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