Boss Level review: Time-loop action movie is entertaining, but dated
Time-loops are all the rage these days and hot on the heels of the horror version (Happy Death Day and its sequel) and the rom-com version (Palm Springs), we've got the action-movie take on an endless day in Boss Level.
Joe Carnahan's movie isn't an attempt to cash in on the trend, as it's actually been in development since 2012. It filmed in 2018 and was originally set for an August 2019 release, but its distributor dropped the movie and it took Hulu picking it up in November 2020 for it to be finally released.
That might make you concerned for the quality of Boss Level, yet while its long gestation has its odd quirks (Mel Gibson as the main villain, no thanks), Carnahan delivers on his "Groundhog Day as an action movie" concept.
Like Palm Springs, Boss Level kicks off when its main character is already deep into the time loop – 140 loops in to be precise.
Former special forces agent Roy Pulver (Captain America's Frank Grillo) wakes up every day about to be killed by a machete-wielding assassin. He knows every move, including how to dodge the helicopter gunfire about to rain on him from outside, and goes through the motions to survive.
That's not the end of Roy's endless day though as he's chased down by an eclectic bunch of assassins throughout the morning, eventually dying at 12.47pm each day whatever he does. He's done with this shit and now spends every day in the loop heading to a restaurant and getting drunk until he's killed.
Roy isn't that interested in finding out why it's happening to him until a chance encounter with his son Joe (played by Grillo's real-life son Rio). Roy finds a new lease of life in this connection and resolves to work out what the hell is happening to him, how it connects to his ex-wife Jemma (Naomi Watts) and why shady government boss Colonel Ventor (Gibson) has sent a bunch of assassins after him.
Facing a literal race against time, Roy has to uncover the truth about a secretive government project to finally break out of the loop and live once again for tomorrow.
Given Roy has been been in the time loop for a while, Boss Level is spared the need for endless exposition. That should have freed up the movie, but Carnahan instead overuses voiceover in the early stages of the movie to highlight Roy's unique situation. We're shown and told what's happening, even though the showing would suffice.
It bogs down the entertaining early scenes of Roy not caring about his fate and the frequent callbacks to his earlier deaths. Frank Grillo gets to show off a rarely-seen comedic side, mixing the gritty action hero with dark humour, but you wish Carnahan would just let his actions do the talking. (Although it must be said that one dig at Captain America is very, very good.)
When Carnahan lets the action do the talking, Boss Level excels with a series of inventive and brutal set pieces. It's not just the title that's a nod to video games as the structure of the movie is similar to classic side-scrolling beat-em-ups like Double Dragon, with Roy taking on the various assassins and working his way up. Roy sometimes gets it hilariously wrong, but at least he's always got an automatic extra life.
Boss Level doesn't get it quite as right when it comes to the supporting characters. Naomi Watts has a thankless role as Jemma, who only serves as Roy's motivation despite her key role in his predicament, while Mel Gibson is just an odd choice because the Colonel isn't some OTT villain and is actually a bit dull.
The casting of Gibson (which happened before Winona Ryder's accusations last year) adds to the sometimes-dated feel of Boss Level. Perhaps it's because we've seen plenty of time-loop movies recently, or the fact we've been all effectively living in one this past year, but Boss Level doesn't always feel as fresh as it should.
Once the initial joy of the concept has worn off, things feel a bit repetitive – which might be the joke, but it doesn't mean it's a successful one. Add in some attempt to add cohesion and emotional weight to the nonsensical plot, and Boss Level isn't quite the consistent high-octane action movie you'd be expecting and wishing for based on the concept.
Still, the concept and Frank Grillo's performance is so good that Boss Level will still satisfy those drawn to its Groundhog Day-but-action hook. It's just that you can't imagine going back for endless repeats.
Boss Level is available to watch now on Hulu in the US. A UK release date has yet to be confirmed.
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