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Originally intended for release in August 2019, Boss Level has been sitting in limbo for quite a while – but it was worth the wait! This story about a retired special forces soldier who is trapped in a never-ending time loop where he is hunted and brutally killed every day by a group of mercenaries is every action-fanboy’s dream. While the concept of being in a time loop has been done before with films like Groundhog Day and Edge of Tomorrow, the execution of this premise in Boss Level shows that, despite its unoriginality, it can still make for great entertainment.
Narrated by the story’s hero, Roy Pulver (Frank Grillo), we learn that for reasons unknown to Roy, he is trapped in a time loop where he’s relentlessly hunted by an eclectic team of mercenaries from the moment he wakes up in bed next to a beautiful woman in his apartment, to when they inevitably kill him in whatever new way he tries to escape them. No matter how far he travels, no matter what new decisions he makes and no matter how good he gets at learning the routines of his pursuers and killing them, he eventually dies. After 139 times and counting, Roy is a little over it, to be quite frank (no pun intended).
Despite becoming demoralized about the whole situation because he can’t figure out how to end the repetitive, monotonous violence, Roy finds a new motivation for getting out of bed in the morning and immediately killing the guy attacking him with a machete. He realizes that Jemma Wells (Naomi Watts), a scientist, his ex and the mother of his son, Joe (Rio Grillo), is key to his time looping problems. To up the stakes even more, Jemma’s boss, Col. Clive Ventor (Mel Gibson), is also playing a nefarious role in the plot Roy learns he’s a part of.
In order to end the violent cycle and save the ones he loves, Roy must embrace the advantage of living an endless cycle of death / respawn in order to learn the skills necessary to overcome his foes and to figure out the cryptic message left behind by Jemma. Almost like a videogame!
Frank Grillo is an absolute powerhouse as ex-Delta Force soldier, Roy Pulver. Aided by a solid script, Grillo is the perfect blend of comedy and action as he delivers humorous narration while leaving a wake of violence from the moment his character wakes up in his apartment to the moment he is ultimately killed. It’s hard to believe Grillo is in his 50s because he is in fantastic shape to play a special forces soldier. Throw in some heartfelt moments of Roy wanting to connect with his son and you’ve got a great all-round popcorn action hero. For the playfully violent vibe of the film, Grillo is definitely the right man for the job.
While not as perfect for his role as Grillo, Mel Gibson does an OK job of being the villainous Col. Clive Ventor. While I’m a fan of Gibson (see last year’s Fatman for proof), I felt his performance was the one letdown when compared to the rest of the cast. With all the eccentric and over-the-top villains that Roy must face in order to get to the main boss, Gibson’s Ventor pales in comparison to his co-stars. His performance isn’t bad, it’s just that he’s not flamboyant or over-the-top enough given the overall ridiculous vibe of the film – or that we know he’s capable of.
Director Joe Carnahan (The Grey, The A-Team) has delivered action gold with Boss Level. With its ridiculous, over-the-top violence blended with comedy, this is an action movie aimed at action connoisseurs and gamers that more than delivers the goods. Sure the blue screening is obvious and the production values can’t compete with big-budget Hollywood productions, but much like the recently released (and similar) The Intergalactic Adventures of Max Cloud, none of this takes away from its awesomeness.
Utilizing the story’s premise of reliving the same day over and over allows for a lot of creative action potential which Carnahan has taken advantage of. Just like Bill Murray’s character in Groundhog Day, Roy knows exactly what’s coming because he’s already lived it many times before, which allows for some fantastically unrealistic and gratuitous fight sequences while still maintaining its playfully comedic style.
My only gripe though is that, unlike Edge of Tomorrow where there is a risk of the hero losing the ability to time loop, Boss Level never has a moment where Roy ever truly becomes vulnerable or loses the ability to save the day. This means he can retry as many times as needed and when that sinks in, you realize the stakes aren’t that high. As long as he keeps trying, he will eventually win…which is a bit meh when you think about it (and why you probably shouldn’t).
Boss Level is a fun movie that knows exactly what it is. This is a popcorn flick that uses its singular premise to let the filmmakers and cast deliver an over-the-top action spectacle that doesn’t defy our suspension of disbelief or whack us over the heads with a misguided mortality play. The fact that the movie is trying so hard to feel like a videogame is almost charming, but it works. With a great performance from Frank Grillo and plenty of well choreographed fight sequences, Boss Level is one for the action fans.