Directed by: Joe Carnahan
4 out of 5
There are some definite problems with Boss Level. While having an incredibly lean and jacked Frank Grillo as your lead merits a certain amount of machismo, the overly sweary dialogue is dated and grates as soon as it starts getting spouted in the film’s opening scene, not to mention some occasionally edge-lord baiting quips. The video game drapery of the movie is also something of an unnecessary distraction – no, the main character is not in a video game, something that I think becomes clear enough early on to not count as a spoiler – so all the digital text overlays and references to gaming seem like an executive’s attempt to make a Groundhog Day-adjacent flick appeal to “the youngsters.” And while I’m not wholly against casting Mel Gibson in a movie – he makes for a good villain, as he does here – some of the dialogue he’s given seems a bit too winky at his past sins to allow one to try to forget said sins while he’s on screen.
But… (given my rating, there had to be one) …The eye-rolling “attitude” of the movie isn’t unexpected, given that it starts with a bang of f-bombs and keeps going from there – and if you were aware of director Joe Carnahan’s pedigree, then the expectations existed even before that scene – and once its established Grillo’s shirtlessness and ex-Delta Forceness, it actually dials that back a little bit and allows the guy to emote, while also kicking a lot of ass and causing a lot of bloody mayhem. The faux-gaming aspect is balanced out by the flick mostly playing things straight, otherwise: Grillo’s character – Roy – is caught in a time loop in which he wakes up, is chased by assassins for (initially) reasons unknown, and always and eventually is killed, in some spectacular fashion. This doesn’t build up to some huge twist, and it doesn’t try to lay out Roy’s investigation as to what’s going on in some hugely Byzantine manner. Sure, scientist / ex-girlfriend Naomi Watts delivers a dump of pseudo-science to explain it, but, well, she explains it, and that’s it. Now it’s just a matter of Roy finding a way to beat the clock to save the day.
And that’s where the movie wins me over, for, problems aside: Boss Level is damned entertaining. It revels in that entertainment with an awareness of its been-there-done-that nature in the wake of violent, quippy, meta-spectacle like Deadpool, and doesn’t try to overly sell us the emotional angle (Roy reconnects with his kid), or build up any time-ticking narratives around the other characters – which is where Mel’s Big Bad becomes more acceptable, because that’s all he is in the movie – it just concocts a fun reason to put Grillo through Hell for 90 minutes, then attaches an admittedly skilled-at-this-kind-of-hyperkinetic-bullshit director to it, and lets loose. It pauses when it needs to, and is edited and written effectively such that we revisit Roy’s day over-and-over, but in a breezy way that’s either used for comedy, or to add some new details in here and there. Maybe I’m being overly favorful to that entertainment factor, but in an industry glutted with a lot of things aiming for this level of efficiency and missing the mark, seeing it nailed for near an entire runtime is incredibly satisfying.