Synopsis: A retired special forces officer is trapped in a never-ending time loop on the day of his death.
Stars: Frank Grillo, Mel Gibson, Naomi Watts, Will Sasso, Annabelle Wallis, Sheaun McKinney, Selina Lo, Michelle Yeoh, Ken Jeong, Meadow Williams, Mathilde Ollivier, Rob Gronkowski
Director: Joe Carnahan
Running Length: 100 minutes
TMMM Score: (8.5/10)
Review: Quick! Tell me the last time you were able to watch a Mel Gibson movie (any Mel Gibson movie) and not think about all the crazy way his career took a bizarre twist around 2006. Clearly under the influence, Gibson was caught on tape ranting about all sorts of unfortunate things, not the least of which were anti-Semitic comments that cast the once sure-fire hit actor as an unhinged looney toon-a-tic. For a while, it looked as if Gibson’s career was going to be another one undone by an actor’s inability to reconcile with their own internal demons. Relegated to low-profile cameos in films by his friends or throwing himself into passion projects, Gibson’s been largely out of the public eye for almost fifteen years and only lately has started to turn up in higher profile endeavors where he’s not bearing the weight of the entire production on his shoulders.
That’s good news for Frank Grillo, star of the new Hulu action film Boss Level because had this film been made at the height of Gibson’s stardom, not only would Gibson’s villain role been moved to more of a central figure but it’s likely Gibson himself might have taken on Grillo’s leading man role himself. It’s especially good news for us because both actors are perfectly cast where they are in a movie that looks like it would be just a hyperactive, bloodier version of the streaming service’s own small wonder hit Palm Springs but is actually just as creative and breathlessly fun and funny as that late summer romp. More than anything, it’s exciting to see Grillo, who has paid his dues for years in Hollywood as a second or third banana in major studio fare or as the heavy in indie productions that aren’t at his level, finally get a significant chance to move up a pay grade.
Roy Pulver (Grillo, Homefront) has been having a bad morning for a few hundred days by the time we meet him. Rudely woken up by a machete-wielding assassin, Roy has only moments to dispatch of him, dress and get out of the way of the helicopter hovering outside his windows with a gunman hanging off ready to take aim. The first killers of the day seem like small potatoes compared to the deadly female sharpshooters, backwoods bumpkin with a crossbow, little person with a big bomb, self-name-checking swordswoman, and doppelgänger slayer (among others) that have been sent to off Roy in a variety of ways before he can make it to lunchtime. Yet each time he gets shot, run over, blown up, decapitated, sliced and diced, or eviscerated he wakes up to the same machete-wielding assassin and has to go through it all again.
Why is this happening to Roy, a former special forces guy that can take a beating and keep on going in the best of circumstances but is getting tired of dying day in and day out? Does it have anything to do with the visit he paid yesterday to his former flame Jemma (Naomi Watts, Luce) who has been working on a top-secret project for a mysterious industrial company run by Colonel Clive Ventor (Gibson, Mad Max). Various clues in a prolonged flashback sequence point to yes but screenwriters Chris Borey, Eddie Borey, & Joe Carnahan (who also directed) don’t let all the secrets out too early on and that’s wise because Boss Level wouldn’t work as well as it does in keeping us engaged if we saw where things were headed.
Instead, Carnahan (The Grey) keeps giving us information the same time Roy gets it and that acts as definite amplifiers of energy right about the time the movie seems to be losing some steam. The first jolt happens right about when Ken Jeong (Scoob!) appears and threatens to derail the zip of the opening with his staler than stale comedy but then Michelle Yeoh (Crazy Rich Asians) enters as a champion sword fighter and suddenly we’re back on track. The bursts of energy continue from there and you may even think the movie is coming to a close and ending on a somber note, but check your watch because there’s more than enough time for Carnahan, Grillo, and co. to stage a satisfying finale. With ample amounts of wink-wink comedy and a willingness to go a little broad (Selina Lo’s deadly Guan Yin never misses a chance to drop her catchphrase as a magically appearing wind blows through her hair), Boss Level parallels Palm Springs not just in the time loop set-up but in the sneaky way that it burrows into our good graces.
Grillo’s been working his way through the film industry for some time and always manages to acquit himself in even the dreariest of releases (see the droopy Body Brokers, released just a few weeks ago for proof) so it’s nice Boss Level has come his way. He deserves a flashy movie like this that I think will be well received with good replay value. If we’re being honest, Gibson’s role feels like a favor from Carnahan because he’s not required to do much, and I’d wager the actor completed his work in no more than three or four days. A star’s a star though and Gibson, for all his troubles, can play both the hero and the villain. It’s nice to see Watts in her second role in as many months where she’s not taking herself so seriously. While Penguin Bloom for Netflix was a real-life drama about a woman learning to live as a paraplegic and befriending a magpie, it was a rare opportunity for Watts to be a little looser in her acting and a fresher performance emerged because of it. Same goes for her work in Boss Level. She’s tasked with some inane scientific dialogue around time travel that might sound totally implausible with another actress, but she’s got just enough gravitas to make it not sound totally beyond reason. If there’s one person I would have urged Carnahan to rethink (aside from Jeong who really is long past his sell-by date), it’s not any of the diverse group of assassins but Will Sasso (Irresistible) as Gibson’s right-hand goon. Either the writers completely lost interest in this character early in the writing process or Sasso didn’t sell it right but it’s such a bland role that could have been a lot more energized with some sort of gimmick that made it memorable.
The film is far too digitized to be called handsomely rendered yet the action sequences do have a gentle thrill to them. I would have taken less of the showier large scale set pieces that were completely computer generated in favor of more one on one interactions. It’s these scenes between Roy/Grillo and the other assassins/actors that are arguably more entertaining to watch, even from a visual standpoint. Boss Level moves so fast and furious, though, that you hardly have time to catch your breath before you’re shot like a cannon into the next foe (or starting again from the beginning) so things are in constant motion. I keep saying I’m over these time loop movies but if they keep getting done as well as Palm Springs and Boss Level, why stop now?