‘In theory, Barely Lethal has an interesting mix of different genres. Teenage special ops agent who yearns for a normal adolescent life fakes her death and poses as an exchange student to attend high school. It tries to toe the line between espionage thriller and coming of age high school comedy. Throw in some great actors like Samuel L. Jackson and Jessica Alba and the potential for a big hit is there. It does have moments of suspense, some mildly amusing comedy, and a fairly straightforward story with a good morale. However, the execution is largely predictable and filled with one-dimensional characters.
We aren’t really given time to buy into “Agent 83” as a secret agent before she desires a “normal” life. There’s a brief introduction of the training at Prescott (secret school for orphans), Hardman (the leader/teacher played by Samuel L. Jackson), and Agent 84 (another trainee who doesn’t seem to like Agent 83 – a little foreshadowing maybe); all while voiceover from the teenage Agent 83 (played by Hailee Steinfeld) explains that she was an orphan and doesn’t buy into the “no attachments” policy set by Hardman.
Shortly after she is “activated” and sent on a mission to Berlin, she spots a group of teens partying in a hotel room and decides to “gather intel”; which includes reading teen magazines and watching such classics as Mean Girls, 90210, Clueless, and Bring It On (being in special ops apparently allows a lot of free time). Given how she reacts to this “intel”, it comes as no surprise that she takes the first chance she gets to escape her espionage life to try to have a “normal” life as glamorized in those types of comedies.
Now going by “Megan Walsh”, she poses as a foreign exchange student and moves in with a stereotypical family; complete with a divorced mother, a moody teenage daughter (who is not too happy to have Megan in their lives… at first), and a rambunctious younger son. On her first day of high school, she meets two guys, Roger (the geeky guy played by Thomas Mann) and Cash (the popular guy played by Toby Sebastian) creating a love triangle that plays out how you might expect with a couple of interesting and/or amusing twists.
Megan does start to show signs of her espionage life while trying to live her normal life. She reacts defensively to surprises, she speaks some typical “spy” lingo, and the younger son is frequently found playing with her spy gear. It isn’t long before her old life catches up and threatens to derail “Mission High School”.
Barely Lethal has its flaws; including some storyline pacing issues and Roger’s dad (whose scenes/jokes all fall flat). But I liked it enough to recommend it to anyone who likes cheesy high school comedies with a little espionage thrown in the mix.