Barely interesting

Barely Lethal satirizes the effect of media on impressionable youth. How those fluffy teen high school romance dramas mask the realities of real relationships. How TV slants the existence of cliques. How social perception is warped to make for better storytelling. It’s a stupid movie, but one with the underlying conceit that media does warp expectations and ideas – even if it is understood how fictional the scenarios are.

And with this rich background, Barely Lethal collapses into one of those dopey romance sagas. Cliches, tropes, characters; they have all existed elsewhere and Barely Legal exhausts itself before any of the potential in the premise is exposed. Instead of bright and cheery, it’s angry and bitter, a reflection of someone’s rotten trot through middle America’s high school.

What power this film could have even with the ridiculous basis it may have. Hailee Steinfeld is orphaned at birth, brought up in a comically abusive government program – Prescott, run by Samuel L. Jackson – where girls break from their pre-ordained, toy aisle personalities. They’re killers. Barely Lethal is on to something here, settling into a gruff situation for a female action star to blossom – even going so far as to situate itself as a female power fantasy. Scenes enjoyably tease how unsuspecting a woman is as the star of a spy thriller.

But by the end, Steinfeld is giggling, prancing, and spinning in circles while montage-ing clothes to pop music, all before meeting a boy. She’s been whittled down to a caricature. Ugh. Her retreat from Prescott is complete after she gorges herself on 10 Things I Hate About You and Bring it On. Barely Lethal squanders itself. Excise an expected brawl at the end and Steinfeld’s on-screen high school journey is identical in construction to every other screen high school journey. She doesn’t need the back story just to play the awkward kid alone in a lunch room.

Scenes are shot as if for a Nickelodeon special, their falsely feminine, dreamy haze obnoxious rather than suitable.

Barely Lethal does nothing with its premise. It neither rips the foundation of the teen comedy to pieces nor establishes a base to break from a male-dominated action scene. Scenes are shot as if for a Nickelodeon special. Their falsely feminine, dreamy haze is obnoxious rather than suitable. Maybe a female director would have shifted the tone. As it sits, Kyle Newman, who lensed the successful geek road trip Fanboys in 2009, seems caught in the same world. Barely Lethal is written so the geek inevitably gets the girl.

Credit to first time writer John D’Arco for cranking through a number of cruel, gross, maybe even self-reflective lines. Barely Lethal references Mean Girls and almost – almost – has that film’s knowledgeable spunk. But it doesn’t. It’s a fake and it would be best not to be caught in the trap. [xrr rating=2/5 label=Movie]

A terrified look @ 38:52

Digitally captured by the lens of the Red Epic, Barely Lethal has moments, at least where the cinematography hasn’t fallen into an obsession with haze. Chunks of the film look as if they take place in a steam room – but they don’t.

Fidelity is not outstanding when present. In close, detail is noticeable though. Medium shots tend to veer flat. Exteriors are typically clean, save for some banding in the sky and a barely perceptible touch of aliasing on certain visual effect items. The disc-side of things generally handle themselves well however.

Color timing exists to pump up oranges when inside Steinfeld’s home. The rest chills so slightly. Whites tend to carry a mild injection of light blues. It’s not severe. Primaries survive anyway, and while not bursting with color, there is enough to give Barely Lethal a pleasant appearance.

Black levels? They’re fine. By the finale, their necessity increases. Shadows are firm. [xrr rating=4/5 label=Video]

For being what appears to be modestly budgeted outside of the casting, audio work is exceptional. Multiple instances of cars, planes, and helicopters panning around the soundfield are superb. In what is now a duh moment, a later car chase is all over the mix, slipping between channels whether they be fronts or rears.

A school setting means hallways and lunch rooms fill with chatter, setting up a base of ambiance which follows this disc everywhere. Parties and a live music performance add the needed LFE boost since the use is minimal otherwise. [xrr rating=4/5 label=Audio]

Director Kyle Newman brings in two of his actors on this project, Dave Cameron and Thomas Mann, to handle commentary work. Back to School is a bland 11-minute making of, while some deleted scenes carry limited impact. [xrr rating=2/5 label=Extras]


Click on the images below for full resolution screen captures taken directly from the Blu-ray. Images have not been altered in any way during the process.

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