Remember action movies from the 80s and 90s where it was pure unadulterated action without all the frills of character development? That’s what Boss Level is and this is ultimately a very good thing.
Roy Pulver (Frank Grillo) wakes up over and over to a screaming woman (Annabelle Wallis) and a man with a machete wanting to take off Frank’s head. Then there’s that pesky armed helicopter (a seeming staple of Carnahan films), the pair of women ready to blow him up, a short guy with explosives, the twins (one being Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson who starred as B.A. Baracas in Carnahan’s The A-Team), Frank’s twin and also the girl with the sword (Selina Lo). Pulver is not having a good day and it never stops repeating. Eventually, there’s a boss bad guy, Colonel Clive Ventor (Mel Gibson) and his henchman (Will Sasso) too.
Boss Level is a riff on the (now almost overused) time loop mechanic where the day repeats over and over again until the protagonist finds a way to end the loop. It takes a little bit from other time loop films like the original Groundhog Day, Edge of Tomorrow, Source Code, Palm Springs and The Map of Tiny Perfect Things. I did not expect the film to be deep in that department and it isn’t. The loop is only there to let us see Pulver learn (like in videogames) how to beat the boss, squeeze in action sequences and for laughes. It is used well in that respect.
Frank Grillo is an underrated actor. He is great in Boss Level. Grillo effortlessly exudes charm, confidence and a wry humor. He is perfect for the role of Pulver. Naomi Watts is good during her limited screen time. Gibson is reduced to being a ranting and menacing desk-bound villain – and this is a good thing. Frank Grillo’s son Rio does well in his role as Pulver’s son. The very awesome Michelle Yeoh makes a cameo in the film and she’s fantastic. Ken Jeong’s cameo is him being Ken Jeong, which is not a bad thing.
There are a few things about Boss Level that I did not like. The first, and largest, is the heavy use of voice-overs by Pulver. It is a lazy way for the screenwriters (Carnahan being one of them) to get exposition out of the way, but there was way too much of it – and a lot of it was unnecessary. A minor thing is that there are bits of the film that slow down and take away from the manic pacing of Carnahan’s direction. It’s minor and while it works to add more substance to the story and plot itself, it does slow things down a bit.
Joe Carnahan is an underrated and talented director. His style of direction reminds me a lot of John Woo’s style – the action scenes that he puts together has that same sense of kinetic energy and it is something that not many directors can produced. His action sequences also have a clarity to them, just like Woo’s, where the action is easy to follow, yet frantic and aggressive. I have been a fan of Joe Carnahan since Ticker, which was a short film in the BMW series The Hire. His feature films have all had the same sort of kinetic action and sly humor: The A-Team, Smokin' Aces and Stretch. The one film of his that I have not watched yet is The Grey and I need to. I believe Carnahan makes a cameo in Boss Level as one of the patrons at the diner.
At 100 minutes long, Boss Level is the perfect length for a fun, action packed film. I came in the movie knowing that if it had anything, it would have great action and for that I am satisfied. Boss Level is a wildly entertaining pure action film.
Watched at home, streamed on Hulu.
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