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‘Boss Level’ offers up time loop action

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So there sure have been a lot of time loop movies lately, huh?

Don’t get me wrong – I’m as big a fan as anyone of the “Groundhog Day, but also this” genre. But at this point, you have to bring something new to the table; it’s all familiar now, so what else you got?

Movies like Hulu’s “Boss Level,” directed by Joe Carnahan and starring Frank Grillo, usually need that extra push to become something other than disposable. This action-driven time looper never does get around to breaking new ground, so its ceiling is on the low side. However, through gleefully nonsensical action sequences and a fresh-out-of-f—ks performance from Frank Grillo in the lead, it actually gets pretty close to that ceiling.

It’s a movie that does have some fun with its premise, offering a number of sharp action sequences and a few decent gags (including a couple that are a little … squishy). The cast is having a good time and no one is expecting you to think too hard. Again – you’ve seen it all before, but there are definitely worse ways to kill a couple of hours.

We meet Roy Pulver (Grillo) as he wakes up to an attack from a machete-wielding intruder, only to casually stroll his way through the encounter, even as said encounter escalates to the point where Roy must escape through an impeccably-timed leap from his apartment window.

From there, we learn that Roy has inexplicably been reliving the same day over and over again, and no matter what he does or how he does it, he can’t seem to survive much beyond noontime. For reasons that he doesn’t understand, he is the target of a motley crew of oddball assassins. Sometimes, it’s a pair of Brits in a minivan. Sometimes, it’s a diminutive explosives expert. Sometimes, it’s a hillbilly with a harpoon gun. All he knows is that they’re all trying to kill him.

Dozens of attempts at survival, dozens of eventual failures; eventually, he carves out a routine of sorts, one that leaves him sitting at a bar with enough time to get rip-roaring drunk before one or more of the weirdoes stalking him track him down.

Our first real clue as to Roy’s circumstances comes when we finally get to see some of the previous day. This is where we meet Jemma Wells (Naomi Watts, “Penguin Bloom”), Roy’s ex and mother of his son Joe (Frank Grillo’s real-life son in his screen debut) – only Joe doesn’t know that Roy is his father. We also learn that Jemma is a scientist, working on some sort of hush-hush high-tech project at the behest of the shadowy Colonel Ventor (Mel Gibson, “Force of Nature”). Ventor has some questions about Roy – questions that he leaves up to his security chief Brett (Will Sasso, “Film Fest”) to answer.

As it turns out, the secret project might be the key to the whole situation – unless it destroys reality instead. Gradually, Roy begins to piece together a plan, one that he hopes will not only save him and his family, but humanity itself.

Lucky for him, he’s got all the time in the world.

“Boss Level” doesn’t score a lot of points for originality; everything you get here has pretty much been done before. That said, however you feel about formula, there’s value in execution. And this movie is a well-executed version of what it is.

The action sequences are solid, and thanks to director Carnahan’s commitment to variations on a theme, the repetition never really gets dull. The chance to see those same general fights and stunts with assorted twists and tweaks allows room for plenty of quick hit moments of violent and/or comedic fun. Carnahan also embraces an interesting video game conceit, using 8-bit graphics to illustrate Roy’s different attempts. Not a bad look, but it’s a shame we don’t get to see more of it; a few additional nods to that aesthetic could have given the film a nice visual boost.

Grillo is the perfect guy for this kind of biggish-budget action streamer; he’s a pretty talented dude, but he also seems to have a bit of a B-movie sensibility – an ideal combo for a project like “Boss Level.” He’s just recognizable enough to front a film this size while also having a fondness for outsized genre fare, as well as an affinity for action work. He’s a good fit here. Watts is absolutely overqualified for her role; she’s not given much of anything to do, even in the scenes in which she’s ostensibly centered. She’s fine, but never gets the chance to be much more than that. Will Sasso is doing his best to play against type, glowering and grunting, but it doesn’t always fully work. Oh, and Ken Jeong is here for some reason – he’s a bartender who has a handful of scenes (well, the same scene a handful of times, anyway).

And then there’s Mel Gibson. Look, it’s not that his performance is bad. It’s not. He’s more than capable of providing a serviceable villain-type figure for a movie like this. He can handle being the big bad. He does some scenery chewing, of course, and does some other standard-issue evil antagonist stuff. It’s just … meh. And for all the baggage you get with Gibson, is meh really worth it?

“Boss Level” has fun with its central concept, embracing some of the action possibilities of the time loop, but it never really pushes the envelope. There are some very good pieces here, but the whole winds up being less than the sum of its parts. It’s almost there – a few more times through the loop and they’ll have it just right.

[3 out of 5]

Last modified on Monday, 08 March 2021 10:55

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