Boss Level Synopsis: Roy (Frank Grillo), A retired special forces officer, is trapped in a never-ending time loop on the day of his death. To escape this endless eternity, he must reconnect with his ex Jemma (Naomi Watts) and stop her nefarious boss Colonel Clive Ventor (Mel Gibson) from ending the world.
Once Hollywood sees a concept sniff success, a once revelatory idea often morphs into a tired marketing tactic. Time loop narratives have certainly begun to experience this phenomenon. It all started with the success of early 2010’s efforts Source Code and Edge of Tomorrow, which opened the doors for filmmakers to reinvent the “Groundhog Day” concept from their own perspective. Fresh spins on the time loop narrative like Palm Springs and Happy Death Day left a sizable mark with their crafty innovations.
After all of this exploration, the concept is starting to reach its creative expiration date with audiences. As a byproduct of poor timing (the film was originally filmed in 2018) and uneven execution, Joe Carnahan’s latest Boss Level travels through its repetitive loop without bringing much new to the table.
Through the inconsistencies, there’s actually a promising nucleus of a film here. Carnahan’s slick visual edge makes a fitting complement to the concept’s relentlessly bombastic allures. His creatively-drawn action scenes shamelessly bask in the film’s endless cycle of violence while also mining a few cheeky jokes at the expense of Hollywood’s played-out action formula. Star Frank Grillo also deserves recognition for his gruff action star appeals. He wisely matches the character’s bitting cynicism with some much-needed humanity, creating an earnest everyman that draws the audience’s interest (his playful comedic touch enhances several one-note gags).
Boss Level works in bits and pieces, but the whole experience travels through a malaise of familiarity. Carnahan leans heavily into the 80’s action movie aesthetic without ever striking a genuine voice inside the pastiche. His script (collaborated on by The Borey Brothers and Carnahan) strains itself badly on cool-guy machismo dialogue, with several lines landing with an overworked awkwardness that detracts from the action onscreen. Attempts to accent the scenery with obvious needle drops and bizarrely-implemented color-grading show a general lack of tactfulness throughout the experience (why does everything here look so run-down and cheap? It’s a 45 million dollar movie!).
Where Boss Level would have felt innovative a decade ago, it now lands with a certain tiredness. The script’s basic-level plotting gets stuck in melodramatic contrivances, often overworking the simplistic mechanics in unsuccessful attempts to elicit a connection. There’s also rarely a moment where Carnahan steers away from a straightforward and repetitive narrative roadmap. Similar to Roy’s empty journey through the same day, I felt a distant ambivalence towards the story’s lack of interesting surprises.
Boss Level presents a few glimmers of low-rent actioner entertainment, but the film’s all-too-familiar premise rarely breaks new ground amongst its crowded subgenre.
Boss Level debuts on Hulu on March 5th
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