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Directed by Joe Carnahan
Written by Chris Borey, Eddie Borey and Joe Carnahan
Starring Frank Grillo, Naomi Watts and Mel Gibson
Classification R; 100 minutes
With Joe Carnahan’s new action comedy, Boss Level, we have reached a moment of time-loop cinema singularity. That is: There are now so many movies about characters reliving the same day over and over again – from Groundhog Day to last year’s Palm Springs – that it feels like we, the audience, are destined to rewatch the same kind of movie over and over again to the point of uncontrollable sustainability. Or at least until filmmakers come up with a new conceit to repeatedly swipe from one another.
I suppose you could do worse, though, than be destined to rewatch Boss Level until the end of your days. Although not hitting the zany genre highs of Happy Death Day 2U and Live Die Repeat (a.k.a. Tom Cruise’s Edge of Tomorrow), it is also not as déjà-vu dull as, say, Love Wedding Repeat and ARQ. Instead, Boss Level is a rock-solid B-movie, with the “B” also standing this time for “Been There, Blown Up That.”
Our here-we-go-again hero this round is Roy (Frank Grillo), a grizzled ex-Special Forces type who is forced to endure the same brutal morning over and over again. What’s worse: Every day begins with the same colourful band of wackos (a samurai-sword lady, a dwarf fond of grenades) targeting him for death, and every day ends when he inevitably gets stabbed, shot, decapitated or worse.
It doesn’t take long for Roy to figure out the reason why he’s in such limb-breaking limbo – something to do with his scientist ex (played by a slumming Naomi Watts) and her villainous boss (Mel Gibson) – and it’s clear that the film doesn’t care, either. Mostly, director and co-writer Carnahan (Narc, The Grey) is here for the cartoonish carnage, which is doled out gleefully and all to the soundtrack of Boston’s Foreplay/Long Time.
It’s bloody, brutal, stupid fun – until it isn’t. Either running out of ideas or running into budgetary problems, Carnahan slows things down about halfway in, stopping the madness in its tracks to give Roy some humanity (not needed here, but thanks!) and to give audiences some yadda-yadda villainy from a bored-looking, here-for-the-paycheque Gibson (also, no thank you!).
On that Gibson issue: Yes, I’m still puzzled as to why the uber-problematic actor keeps getting work, especially when he invests so little energy to the proceedings. But I guess Carnahan should earn a teensy tiny pat on the back for at least acknowledging the performer’s pariah-level presence, even in a backwards-offensive way. Semi-spoiler alert, but it turns out that Gibson’s bad guy is involved in all the film’s time-travel muckery in order to prevent, um, the rise of Adolf Hitler? If that weren’t overcompensating enough, Carnahan has Roy at one point yell, “That’s for the Jews!” after shooting an anti-Semitic assassin. Okay then!
Ultimately, Gibson’s presence seems more like a thing to be overcome than embraced by Carnahan, who is far more interested in calling back to the madcap days of his 2006 thriller Smokin’ Aces and its roster of collector-card contract killers.
Good on the director, though, for giving the world more Grillo: The man is one of today’s best tough-guy actors, even if he hasn’t quite broken out of the low-budget arena. Time and again, Grillo surprises and delights, no matter the creative or financial restraints placed upon him. Boss Level could learn a thing or two from its leading man.
Boss Level is available on-demand, including Apple TV/iTunes and the Google Play Store, starting March 9
In the interest of consistency across all critics’ reviews, The Globe has eliminated its star-rating system in film and theatre to align with coverage of music, books, visual arts and dance. Instead, works of excellence will be noted with a Critic’s Pick designation across all coverage.