Frank Grillo capably fronts the incredibly entertaining Boss Level, which puts the Groundhog Day time-loop gimmick to use in sending up the action genre.
Boss Level is the most fun I’ve had with a movie in ages. Joe Carnahan has taken the played-out Groundhog Day time-loop gimmick and imbued it with the same kind of fresh energy as Palm Springs, only for the revenge-action genre rather than comedy. Although, Boss Level is pretty funny too, thanks largely to a snappy, just-clever-enough screenplay by Carnahan and Chris and Eddie Borey, and a surprisingly breezy star in friend of the site Frank Grillo (he left a comment once.) The film has been sat on a shelf since 2018, which is a shame, but you have to imagine now’s just the right time for it. We’re all living the same day over and over again anyway – we might as well make the most of it.
That’s what Grillo’s Roy Pulver figures as he, rather irritated, narrates us through an opening sequence that explains he’s living the same day over and over, fighting off the same colorful menagerie of hired assassins reminiscent of Accident Man, which is fitting since Grillo is a leading man with a lot of the same qualities as Scott Adkins, the star of that movie. Every day Roy is woken by a machete-wielding maniac and has to jump out of his apartment window into a garbage truck. Every day he makes his way to the same watering hole tended by Ken Jeong and frequented by a security expert named Dave (Sheaun McKinney) and a master swordswoman played by Michelle Yeoh, 58 years old and scarcely looking a day over 30 (Grillo, for that matter, is 55, and is shredded). Naturally, all of these eccentric little details become important as Roy learns how to extend and alter this one day to his own advantage, appropriating both video game logic and the idea of death as both a punchline and a structural device.
Of course, this is also a metaphor for the generally indistinguishable exploits of action heroes far and wide, but it’s not a genre deconstruction in the way, say, Cabin in the Woods was. It’s much more a loving homage to the form, a way to poke affectionate fun at the old-school leading men and their movies without which this one wouldn’t be able to exist. Roy’s otherworldly deadliness is the result of training (he’s an elite Delta Force-type dude, obviously), but mainly just plain repetition, memorizing each step as it comes, and trying out many different solutions until he finds one that works. It’s the same riff Edge of Tomorrow was playing, but with a more manic, knowing energy, and Grillo treats saving the day as something he might as well do since it’s better than living it over and over. Well, at least until his meddling reveals that he might have the opportunity to also save his scientist ex-wife (Naomi Watts), whose experiments with a temporal “spindle” have caused the repetition in the first place, their son Joe (Grillo’s own son, Rio), who doesn’t know Roy is his father, and of course, the world, which is at stake in its entirety thanks to the knock-on effects of upsetting the space-time continuum.
Boss Level lends its characters the same kind of self-awareness as its structure and tone, which is how you wind up with Jeong, McKinney, and Yeoh playing exaggerated archetypes and Mel Gibson as an articulate baddie moaning about liberals. Former UFC light-heavyweight champions Quinton “Rampage” Jackson and Rashad Evans, who historically hate each other, play German twins; Rob Gronkowski has a cameo as a heavy. It’s a satisfyingly clever film because it’s not really trying to be that clever; it knows it’s onto a winning concept and just allows it to unfold, including all the failed attempts and ill-thought-through plans that help to send-up the action genre on their own. In its broad strokes, it’s nothing you haven’t seen before, but in the details, it’s a terribly entertaining reminder that time is never wasted making fun of things.