Sometimes we do have all the time in the world, even if the proverbial “time” in question just so happens to be the same day over and over and over again. In Boss Level (2021), one of the easiest films to press start to this year, we get to know Roy; an infantile, rough and tumble, ex-special forces alcoholic who finds himself marked for death by a group of diverse and conniving assassins. As if that’s not bad enough, every single time any of these killers does away with confused Roy, the day oddly starts all over again and he has to annoyingly restart the fight.
How did this happen? Who is responsible? And why does everyone want Roy to die a horrible, painful death? Either way, he’s going to find out, or die trying….consistently. Violence, bullets, wackiness, existentialism, explosions, nihilism, swords, hilarity, tons of blood, and plenty of respawning ensues.
It’s no secret that the time-loop plot device has been a staple of the sci-fi genre for near eons. Living the same day or time period repeatedly ad nauseum has brought about some of the most captivating films and television episodes out there. I may be alone in this but one huge plus is each rendition brings a little something extra to the sub-genre. Whether it be the topical intricacies of the profound classic Groundhog Day (1993), the slashing exuberance of Happy Death Day (2017), the poignant sensibilities of Palm Springs (2020) or the sprawling spectacle of Live. Die. Repeat (2014), the concept continues to expeditiously evolve. Every project, shifting the premise slightly to its status in science fiction today. And that’s apparent here as well.
In most cases the quantum or theoretical physics of the loopiness tends to be examined by our unwitting characters, but in this actioner, it’s more about the sleek carnage than anything else, establishing the excess of it, later making peace with it. For the most part. And of course the video game influence which truly gave the story an 8-bit to 16-bit heartbeat as well.
Kudos to director Joe Carnahan (Smokin’ Aces and Narc) for inherently starting the film in the respective middle of the story. It kept things brisk without having any pausing moments. No scene is without merit, utilizing the gaming motif wonderfully, and even taking a few emotionally unexpected turns too.
The least expected aspect being the main man Frank Grillo. Over the years, his underrated talent has started to receive the exposure it so richly deserves. This time around, with taking the helm of this playthrough, he’s damn near exquisite as Roy. With a lowkey brand of killer machismo, wryness that’s as witty as it is spiteful, and even a level of self-awareness that’s rather commendable, Roy is the flawed soldier we can’t help but to love, and Grillo makes it easy to enjoy his particular set of skills and root for him in the other parts of his life. And it goes without saying that he carries this entire film perfectly.
Not only that, Grillo manages to have rapport and chemistry with just about everyone he shares the screen with. As an actor, he knows how to be an unmissable presence as a team player in an ensemble and a lead. If anyone still doubts his star power or why so many are laboring for his stock to rise, just show them this film and they’ll understand. Or “The Purge Anarchy.” Or definitely “Kingdom.” But also this.
The rest of the cast is pretty jam packed, with a majority being one-note caricatures, but it’s understandable given the story. They’re meant to stay within their roles in this loopy day with not much deviation. Nevertheless, we get Mel Gibson, Naomi Watts, Sheaun McKinney, Michelle Yeoh, Annabelle Wallis, Selina Lo, Ken Jeong, Meadow Williams, Rampage Jackson, Rashad Evans, and even Will Sasso. Everyone was pretty decent, though the most out-of-place was Sasso who put in a surprising showing as the vicious right hand man to Gibson’s main baddie. Speaking of Mel, even though his role was limited, you got to give the guy credit, despite having done it all in the business (And pissing off just about everyone in the past), he still doesn’t mind putting in solid work, unlike other legends who phone everything in to such a degree they drag down any project they’re in. You know who I’m referring to. But I digress.
Bottom line, if there’s ever a film to breeze into during these trying times, it’s this addition to the timey-wimey sub-genre as well as a homage to the classic games of an era never forgotten. Carnahan’s ubiquitous direction, Grillo’s smoothly badass performance and a stacked cast made for a tight, violent, and significant romp. One you wouldn’t mind leveling up with over and over again. No cheat code required.
Review written by Marcus Wilturner