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Featured Blu-ray / DVD Review: Barely Lethal

August 3rd, 2015

Barely Lethal - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
Video on Demand


A24 has only been around for little more than two years, but in that time, I've reviewed more than a dozen of their releases. I haven't enjoyed all of them, but their hit to miss ratio has been better than most. Likewise, their hit to miss ratio at the box office has been better than most. If this keeps up, they might start releasing wide releases in a few years. However, while their track record is amazing compared to most limited releases, Barely Lethal is not a success story. It earned terrible reviews and missed the Mendoza Line during its opening weekend, earning less than $2,000 per theater. Granted it was also a VOD premiere, so that's a mitigating circumstance, it was one of the weakest box office performers for A24. Was this result fair? Or did it deserve better?

The Movie

The film begins with a voice-over from Agent 83, an orphan who never knew her parents. She grew up in Prescott Academy, a government run super spy school where the entire class is young girls. We are talking 8 years old young. They are being trained to be the perfect killers, one of the main elements of their training is to be without social connections. Agent 83 is clearly the best in her class, much to the annoyance of Agent 84; however, she never accepted the "be an island" mantra of the head master, Hardman. In fact, she's been secretly studying normal teenage life.

The class's first mission has them going after Victoria Knox, a weapons dealer who is very powerful and very elusive. For the first time in years, she's been caught on camera and it is up to Agent 83 to lead the mission, while Agent 84 is the backup. The first part of the mission goes perfectly and 83 is able to capture Victoria. However, during the pick-up portion of the mission, Agent 83 is cut loose from Victoria and falls into a river below. Hardman tries to contact her through their communicator and at first Agent 83 is going to respond. Then she realizes this could be her only chance to escape this life and become a normal teenager. She throws her communicator into the water and heads off to her new, normal life.

Agent 83 decides to find a new family by going through an exchange program and renaming herself Megan Walsh. She then travels to her new exchange family in Newton, a small town in the States. The Larsons pick her up at the bus stop, Mrs. Larson and her two kids, Liz and Parker. Originally, Liz was the one who wanted an exchange student, but that was years ago and she is annoyed that Megan is there. Her little brother, on the other hand, is much more excited.

Now Megan has to adapt to life in high school, but soon learns her spy training from Prescott Academy has left her woefully unprepared for what is about to happen to her. Not only that, but her old life will soon catch up to her. Those are not spoilers, at least not really. Originality is not this movie's strong point.

There have been a number of movies where cops, spies, etc. go undercover in a high school, so much so that the genre has developed its own set of clichés. Sadly, Barely Lethal uses most of them. It uses so many clichés that even if the execution were flawless, it would still be only a good movie and unfortunately, the execution isn't flawless. Granted, there's nothing that truly stands out as bad and there are some elements that work. The acting is good. Samuel L. Jackson is always fun to watch, while Rachael Harris is underrated. The young cast led by Hailee Steinfeld is also an asset for the movie. There are a number of action scenes that are well staged and executed. However, as I was watching the movie, it felt like a TV movie that somehow got a theatrical release. There's no edge to the film. It's not nearly as bad as its Tomatometer Score would indicate, but it is still just a middling effort.

The Extras

Extras begin with an audio commentary track with the director, Kyle Newman, and two of the actors, Dove Cameron and Thomas Mann. Up next is an 11-minute making of featurette. Finally, there are seven minutes of deleted scenes. This isn't a ton of extras, but it is better than most similar releases have.

The film didn't cost a lot to make, and it shows at times. The high definition video is detailed enough that some of the lesser special effects really stand out. Besides that, it looks very good with vivid colors, deep blacks, etc. The audio isn't that complicated, but it's good for a low-budget action film. The dialogue is clear and there's enough activity in the surround sound speakers that it draws you in.

The Blu-ray costs $18, which is $5 or about 40% more than the DVD. This is basically industry standard for this type of release.

The Verdict

Barely Lethal has a good cast and a fun premise, but it is brought down by too many clichés and an execution that lacks the edge needed to play up its tropes. If you like the cast and the premise does sound fun, then it is worth checking out. However, while the DVD or Blu-ray have enough extras to not feel bare, I think renting it on Video on Demand is the better option.

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Filed under: Video Review, Barely Lethal, Samuel L. Jackson, Jessica Alba, Rachael Harris, Hailee Steinfeld, Thomas Mann, Dove Cameron, Kyle Newman, Sophie Turner