Synopsis – A retired special forces officer is trapped in a never ending time loop on the day of his death.
My Take – Yet another month, yet another time-loop film. Like I mentioned before, I understand why filmmakers find themselves heading back to the concept. Mainly, as the formula is simple – the protagonist is forced to repeat the same day, over and over, until he/she sets somethings things right, putting an end to the seemingly endless cycle.
However, the best ones in the sub-genre, despite it’s now overly familiar conceit, find themselves adding their own set of layers to the whole concept, and use the repetition to examine ideas and characters from all angles, while providing the much needed freshness to the story, like seen in recent successes like the romantic comedy Palm Springs and the YA drama The Map of Tiny Perfect Things.
Thankfully the same can be said about this latest Hulu release from director Joe Carnahan (The A-Team, Smokin’ Aces, The Grey), who uses a somewhat simplistic story-line, and adapts it very imaginatively to present an utterly enjoyable, surprisingly sweet action entertainer.
Like its title suggests, the film owes a lot to classic arcade and video games, where the protagonist must overcome a series of villains to reach the end, picking up tips and tricks with each repetition, resulting in an explosive hoot of time loop nonsense that only cares about its temporal niceties for as long as it takes to get to the next shootout, car chase, explosion, and beheading.
Most importantly, it proudly wears its intentions on its sleeve and is content with not having a whole lot on its mind. It just wants us to have a great time with a decent enough plot, well-choreographed and amusing fights, and a charismatic star to lead the way.
The story follows Roy Pulver (Frank Grillo), an alcoholic retired Delta Force soldier, who wakes up every morning in the same bed, with the same woman, Alice (Annabelle Wallis), by his side, dodging an attack by a masked killer looking to plunge a knife into him. But no matter what he does, the bunch of assassins coming after him, always make sure he doesn’t make it, making him repeat the whole day again. While he doesn’t understand what’s happening to him, he knows it is connected to Jemma (Naomi Watts), his estranged wife, and her secret project for a shady corporate facility called Dynow Industries and its owner, Colonel Clive Ventor (Mel Gibson).
Luckily, he’s learning to live a little longer every day, picking up on details and behaviors to help him fight back, and when he learns that Jemma has died, Roy elects to make a push to understand what she was working on, looking to stop the loop and save his son, Joe (Rio Grillo), whom he’s never had the chance to parent.
To say this film, director Joe Carnahan‘s version of the Groundhog Day riff, is amusing is an understatement as it completely radiates knowing fun and enthusiasm. Here, director Carnahan aiming to summarize his storytelling interests, taking inspiration from video games to launch a time loop adventure that tracks one tough guy’s particularly busy day, dealing with a horde of assassins coming to murder him in gruesome ways and finds the fun factor in pure excess, giving the film an enjoyable level of mischief as it organizes multiple deaths and physical challenges.
While the time-loop explanation is convoluted and goes out of its way to explain itself with heaps of pseudo-science exposition, director Carnahan uses the plot device to add some often hilarious gags to the film, usually consisting of the various ridiculous ways in which Roy gets killed, and also builds something of a mystery for him to solve, handed vague clues involving Egyptian mythology.
The film also explores other interesting threads, including character development, specifically with Roy’s estranged wife and kid that is sorely lacking from many of these sorts of flicks, even though it feels a little too calculated when the rest of the feature is more of hard-charging race against time.
But we don’t go into a Joe Carnahan-directed film expecting anything less than mind-blowing action, and the film delivers in excess. The action also benefits from the director’s obvious trust in his cast and crew, allowing for scenes to play out in long takes, without quick cuts, extreme close-ups, and other shortcuts.
While some scenes may be just a little too repetitive, overall the film works well and balances the important consistent elements with fresh takes. And though the various assassins and side characters don’t offer much outside of their own surface-level gimmicks, it’s the fighting and stunt work that almost always carries the load and makes up for the fact that you’ll likely not remember the names of the people involved.
However, what makes the whole experience so much better is the bomb of charisma known as Frank Grillo. An actor who has steadily built on his meathead action role appearances to become a dependable, compelling lead. Here, he displays a range as an actor that we rarely see him portray, and he does a great job. As an action actor there are few who can walk in his shoes, both physically and with his on screen presence, let’s face it, he gets a lot of work in this genre for a good reason. He also shares great chemistry with his real life son, Rio Grillo, who despite his young age shows great acting chops.
As the main antagonist, Mel Gibson handles his duties with ease, being gritty and unhinged as required. Though, Naomi Watts doesn’t have much off a screen time, she nevertheless manages to deliver a competent performance whilst adding a sultry appeal that doesn’t go unmissed. In smaller roles, Michelle Yeoh, Ken Jeong, Annabelle Wallis and Will Sasso also add bits of liveliness to the endeavor. Among the wide list of assassins, Selina Lo manages to stand out. On the whole, ‘Boss Level’ is a thrilling time loop of hilarious gags, mindless action and a stellar Frank Grillo.
Directed – Joe Carnahan
Rated – R
Run Time – 94 minutes