Review: 'Boss Level' (2021) Dir. Joe Carnahan
The director / writer of such action thrill rides as 'The A-Team', 'Smokin' Aces' and 'Bad Boys for Life' adds a new meaning to what it's like to have a really bad day, over and over again...
Roy Pulver (Grillo), a retired Delta Force operative, once had everything with girlfriend Dr Jemma Wells (Watts), but he lost it. Yet he never got the chance to make amends and start over, and he's not getting the chance to find out why.
Roy is re-living the same day, and is killed during each time by an assortment of hitmen and assassins. At over 140 times, Roy almost knows the score, but he never makes it past 12:47pm in his "Osiris spindle".
There is something sinister behind the scenes. Colonel Clive Ventor (Gibson), Jemma's boss, and is creating a dangerous world devastating weapon, and only Roy is the person who can fight through his nightmare, stop Ventor and his assassins and live his life once more...
Make it past the cold-opening of guns, explosions, shoot-outs, car chases, knife fights, high falls and extreme CG enhanced action with gravel voiced Frank Grillo and you'll soon discover there is at least some attempt of a plot and story to the madness. The introduction of heavy weights Naomi Watts and Mel Gibson into their small yet important roles help elevate this from what could have been another empty and cheap direct-to-digital offering. There is style, intelligence, humour and slick film-making on show than what could be expected.
Grillo's grizzled former special ops soldier is now 138 days into the worst Groundhog Day ever, and all he can do is piece together why he's being targeted, why he can't die and just who is behind this nightmare. We're treated to a number of tongue-in-cheek flashbacks to kill off Grillo in a number of innovative ways that all help him learn and get closer to surviving longer each day. Each time he dies, he learns a little more about what he needs to do in order to survive and piece together the puzzle a little more.
It's ridiculous in notion, but the more things fall into place, the more it makes comedic, yet sometimes sobering, sense.
Grillo is an entertaining choice for a tough-man lead. Thankfully he's able to add some humanity and humour to his character, not just act as a flat 2D action star
Grillo is also surrounded by an entertaining array of co-stars including Meadow Williams, Will Sasso, Rob Gronkowski and Michelle Yeoh that all have quirky characters to populate the story and actually become integral to the story, not just bit players. Carnahan knows how to write and direct popcorn munching thrills and excessive action, and this is equally up to scratch. There's intelligence behind the silly action and violence, and the pacing of flashbacks to present day narration is entertaining enough as you get closer and closer to the outcome.
The title itself makes so much sense because there is no goal as desirable as reaching the boss level in a fight such as this! While each death acts a reset, we're not treated to laborious retellings of each event, and instead fast-forward to each moment before the fall to see what Grillo does differently, just as if replaying the most difficult level in a video game, remembering what you didn't do. Action sequences are thankfully not to the point of ridiculous, and they are centered around stylish choregraphed shoot-outs and hand-to-hand fights, with Carnahan never afraid to push things for maximum effect.
You'll see shades of Tarantino and Rodriguez in the directing style and narrative, yet this is entertaining enough to stand as something unique.
It can also be said that while Gibson has limited screentime, the scenes he shares with Watts and Grillo are nothing but solid. He's a superb actor, and gives everything to his characters be they heroes or maniacal villains like here; still one of the best acting veterans in Hollywood. In this notion, it's a shame his role as Ventor wasn't expanded on.
Entertaining for all the right reasons, and not just fluff on the outset, a host of solid talent bring a unique actioner to life that delivers more than expected and is great popcorn fun!
'Boss Level' is a co-production between Highland Film Group, Emmett/Furla Oasis, Diamond Film Productions, MoviePass Films, The Fyzz Facility, Ingenious Media & WarParty