Ignore the title. Boss Level has little to do with video games or building up to an ultimate fight. A more fitting title might have been Groundhog No Way! or Unhappy Death Day. Because people are trying to kill retired special forces soldier Roy Pulver from the second he wakes up, and whenever they succeed he just resets back to the morning again. Fighting for your life from the second you open your eyes is certainly a fast way to jump into it.
It’s a time-loop movie so you know the drill. Whenever Roy (Frank Grillo) bites the bullet (or sword, or truck tyre, etc) he winds up back in his bed at the start of the same day. As his narration and the opening sequence make clear, each minute he manages to survive the inexplicably high amount of assassins sent to kill him has been hard-won. But even after hundreds of times, he has only been able to survive as far as 12:47pm before ultimately getting murdered. This quickly answers the question of ‘why isn’t Roy trying to figure out how this has happened to him’. He simply hasn’t had time.
Boss Level is at its best when revelling in this simple yet effective concept. The over the top approach helps to mitigate an otherwise dreary masculine sameness that pervades the movie’s low points. For instance, Naomi Watts is wasted as Roy’s ex-wife as she is relegated to self-serving dialogue that exists solely to further his motivations or to sit barely responsive under the rumble of a long threatening monologue from baddie Colonel Ventor (Mel Gibson). Her research is the McGuffin that makes the plot work (She’s experimenting with time, Roy! Pay attention!) but she exists to add angst to Roy, not to function in her own right, disappointingly.
Abject failure of the Bechdel test aside, Boss Level does achieve some brevity with the typical second Act time-loop movie slowdown. Roy, having hit a dead end trying methods to stay alive, instead focuses on getting to know his estranged young son, Joe. This is where the video game bit that the movie is questionably titled after comes in. The pair bond over playing video games in the small downtime Roy has managed to carve out before rather world-ending circumstances force another reset. Whilst mourning the death of his ex-wife in one hand and seeking women to sleep with in the other is all so ‘Flat Pack Man Backstory’ standard, the connection between Roy and Joe is well written and well performed, helped in no small part by the fact Joe is played by Frank Grillo’s real-life son, Rio.
If the emotional heavy lifting rests in parental bonding, then the bulk of the fun comes from the larger than life characters. Those trying to kill Roy consist of a colourful collection of assassins ranging from German Twins, a hard to locate explosives expert, and a highly-skilled swordsmith obsessed with announcing her victories every time she chops off Roy’s head (she is correct: ‘Guan Yin has done this’). Gibson tries to fill his stock military boss guy with some presence but the part is too underwritten which, ironically, makes it much less satisfying for Roy to take him on than it does to watch him wreak his revenge against the parade of murderers who have repeatedly mown him down.
Boss Level has all the glee that comes with a plot device that allows you to hit a big red RESET button as often as you like. Groundhog Day did repeated mental anguish transforming into serenity. Palm Springs plumped for succumbing to mindless leisure before finding a reason to change. Happy Death Day 2 U just gaffer taped ‘slasher flick’ and ‘time loop’ together and impaled the result with sharp objects gleefully.
Boss Level is a full-on action flick given licence to refine repeated sequences to a knife edge, sweetened with just enough emotional connection to make you cheer on its protagonist. The end result is a movie that gets the tone just right and, even if some of the initial filler lacks substance, Boss Level powers up as a be kind rewind.
Words by Mike Record