Mel Gibson is the boss.
Boss Level is exactly the kind of film I would expect from director Joe Carnahan, the guy behind the A-Team reboot, the Death Wish reboot, the Bad Boys reboot, and El Chicano.
I’d forgive anyone who rolls their eyes at the premise of Boss Level. Another time loop movie? Didn’t they do that to death over the last decade with Edge of Tomorrow, or Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, or Naked, or Happy Death Day, or The Endless, or A Day, or Before I Fall, or The Fare, or See You Yesterday, or Russian Doll, or The Obituary of Tunde Johnson, or Happy Death Day 2 U, or Game Over, or Palm Springs, or The Map of Tiny Things, or Bloodshot, or other films I didn’t mention?
Boss Level stars Frank Grillo as Roy Pulver, a man who has a rather unique problem; he can’t stop getting murdered by assassins. Not only that but every time he dies his day resets and he has to go through the whole thing again. The loop probably has something to do with his estranged wife Jemma Wells (Naomi Watts) and the definitely evil boss Colonel Clive Ventor (Mel Gibson).
Accompanying Mel Gibson is a cast of stereotype assassins including the sword-wielding Chinese assassin Guan Yin (Selina Lo), Irish explosives expert Kaboom (Aaron Beelner), the German Twins (Quinton Jackson and Rashad Evans), and even Rob Gronkowski as Gunner. The time loop is basically a justification to watch the cast of assassins as well as Frank Grillo murder each other as many times and in as many brutal ways as director Joe Carnahan wants. It’s great.
Selina Lo gets the most screen time of the group and also kills Pulver more, seeing as she’s a badass swordswoman. She also has the most dialogue, even if that dialogue is just “I am Guan Yin, and Guan Yin has done this” every time she kills Pulver. Guan Yin is an expert at her craft, and Joe Carnahan makes Pulver work for this victory.
The name Boss Level conjures feelings of playing a video game level over and over and that’s basically what writers Chris and Eddie Borey went for with the script. As Roy Pulver endures repeated death he slowly unravels the mysteries of what is going on and hones his skills against his attackers to the point where he can casually have his morning coffee while effortlessly fending off the his first assailant’s attacks. Something any gamer can relate to. Unlike everyone else in the universe, Pulver keeps his memories between resets.
One standout performance I will note from the supporting cast comes from Will Sasso who plays Brett, Ventor’s primary guard. Sasso has a long history of roles in comedy movies, Family Guy, and basically created the modern day Arnold voice everyone imitates while on MadTV. There’s also Mel Gibson who basically stepped into his role as Luther Voz in Machete Kills and never gave up the persona. Now Gibson has offered a near unlimited number of reasons to dislike the man himself, but the characters that he plays have charm out the wazoo.
Oh and Ken Jeong is here in the umpteenth film I’ve seen where he plays a chatty, goofy, childlike character who annoys the gruff, serious protagonist. I have nothing against Ken Jeong, the man is like a vinaigrette spritzer on the movie plot salad. I’d much rather see him as a side character than say Ed Helms.
The only fault I will give this movie is that it really plays up the cliche inherent to the genre. One recurring plot point in these movies is that the time loop becomes a vehicle for the protagonist’s opportunity for a rarely offered do-over, to fix not just the loop itself but their own personal life. And Pulver has all of that; the estranged wife, the son he never connected with, the devil-may-care lifestyle of banging random women in bars.
Standing at 100 minutes the ending of Boss Level is abrupt and unexpected, but ultimately makes sense. It might leave you stunned for a few seconds when the film cuts to black and the credits start rolling.