Boss Level (2020)

The “time loop” narrative trope is one that has seen its fair share of exercise on both the big and small screens as of late. The romantic comedies Palm Springs and Long Story Short, the horror/sci-fi hybrid Happy Death Day, and Tom Cruise’s actioner Edge of Tomorrow have all toyed with the notion of a character having to re-live a certain day, mostly to the conclusion of learning from their own mistakes to push past whatever “science” the script has deemed plausible.

So, a film like Boss Level adopting a similar narrative doesn’t exactly instil much confidence – nor does it help that it’s been trying to garner a release for the last 2 years – but thanks to director Joe Carnahan’s injection of brutal machismo, which in itself extends to lead Frank Grillo, this ridiculous, balls-to-the-wall, video-game-come-to-life owns the fact that it’s working with a tired premise, and has a helluva lot of bloody fun in the process.

When Boss Level starts we’re already in the thick of Roy’s (Grillo) time continuum, awaking every morning to a plethora of assassins doing their darnedest to off him. If it isn’t the swing of a machete that jolts him out of his slumber or the machine gun firing into his apartment from a hovering helicopter outside, it’s the swift blade of mercenary Guan-Yin (Selina Lo), a firecracker of an executioner who even gets to pop off a catchphrase following each successful killing; “I am Guan-Yin, and Guan-Yin has done this”. That mentality alone should clue you in as to how self-aware Carnahan’s film is, admitting to its own knowledge that nothing that transpires on screen is remotely serious, and shouldn’t be viewed as such.

As much fun as Boss Level has in depicting the various deaths of poor Roy, it soon becomes apparent that there’s something bigger at play as to why he is specifically the one reliving each day, and, wouldn’t you know it, it’s all to do with a pesky science that obvious bad guy Ventor (Mel Gibson, clearly enjoying himself) and Roy’s doctor ex-wife (Naomi Watts) have concocted. The intricacies of said science are never overly explained – it does have a cool name though, The Osiris Spindle – and the film ultimately falls on the expected trope of personal growth and reflection as to being a reason for overcoming the loop, but because it never pretends to be anything else, we ultimately forgive the film for its familiarity.

Brutally yet hilariously violent, and incredibly well-stacked cast-wise – in addition to Gibson and Watts, the likes of Michelle Yeoh, Ken Jeong, and Annabelle Wallis all earn screen-time – Boss Level is popcorn entertainment taken to the extreme, made all the more digestible thanks to the chiseled charisma of Grillo. It’s attempt at emotional depth may all be for nought, but as far as disposable yet unapologetic entertainment goes, this is by and large one of the most satisfying results to come from a package so hollow at face value.

Boss Level is screening in Australian theatres from February 25th, 2021. It will be available in the United States on Hulu from March 5th, 2021.

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