Skip to main content

Barely Lethal | Film review - Hailee Steinfeld’s teen spy grapples with high-school perils in breezy action comedy

Barely_Lethal Hailee Steinfeld Jessica Alba.jpg
(Image credit: © Signature Entertainment)
(Image credit: © Signature Entertainment)

Teenage assassin Hailee Steinfeld discovers that the treacherous world of espionage has nothing on the perils of high school in Barely Lethal (opens in new tab), a bubblegum action comedy that is very much Kick-Ass meets Mean Girls.

Trained from infancy at a top-secret government facility that turns little girls into killing machines, Steinfeld’s junior spy yearns for a normal adolescence. So she fakes her own death in the middle of a mission and, having swotted up on a bunch of teen movies, reinvents herself as Canadian exchange student Megan Walsh. Cue larky fish-out-of-water comedy as the clueless Megan grapples with a crush on the school heartthrob (Toby Sebastian), tries to bond with her snarky teenage host (Dove Cameron) and accidentally blows her cover when her appearance in an embarrassing video goes viral.

Barely Lethal Samuel L Jackson Jessica Alba.jpg

(Image credit: © Signature Entertainment)

It’s lightweight stuff, certainly, but pulled off with breezy, infectious good humour. Samuel L Jackson adds to the fun with some shouty martinet shtick, as do Jessica Alba’s sneering arms dealer and Sophie (Game of Thrones) Turner’s ruthless rival agent. And there are some nifty one-liners, too, from a fleeting, anti-Canadian jibe, ‘Take back Bieber’, to this surreal putdown, ‘You may have them fooled, but you and I both know that you are sketchier than a 2am waffle house’.

Certificate 12A. Runtime 98 mins. Director Kyle Newman.

A film critic for over 25 years, Jason admits the job can occasionally be glamorous – sitting on a film festival jury in Portugal; hanging out with Baz Luhrmann at the Chateau Marmont; chatting with Sigourney Weaver about The Archers – but he mostly spends his time in darkened rooms watching films. He’s also written theatre and opera reviews, two guide books on Rome, and competed in a race for Yachting World, whose great wheeze it was to send a seasick film critic to write about his time on the ocean waves. But Jason is happiest on dry land with a classic screwball comedy or Hitchcock thriller.