#REVIEW: “BOSS LEVEL”
Review by David Baldwin for Mr. Will Wong
Roy Pulver (Frank Grillo) is reliving the same day endlessly and has no idea why. The monotony is starting to get to him when he meet him on “Attempt 139”, but he is also getting a little better at avoiding getting murdered just in time to wake up and start all over again.
Boss Level is a lot more fun than I expected. While the Sci-Fi Action Thriller play on Groundhog Day has been done before, that formula is turned on its head with the injection of language, iconography and motifs of video games. If the title was not already a dead giveaway, the structure and repetitive nature of the Film will certainly clue any gamer into what Co-Writer/Director Joe Carnahan is going for here. It is deliberately cartoony and amps-up the wild action sequences as high as the budget will take them. Carnahan even adds in constant sarcastic narration and one-liners from Grillo that help extend the references to the point of Boss Level feeling like a living, breathing video game. The only things missing are a HUD (Heads-Up Display) and an extended first-person sequence.
While I appreciate the tongue-in-cheek way direction Carnahan keeps the Film moving in – and the obvious references to his long forgotten Assassin Thriller Smokin’ Aces – he loses his footing in the second half when he starts to unpack the reasons why this is happening to Grillo. The technical mumbo jumbo clogs up the proceedings, as do the parts where the Film grinds to a halt to explain Roy’s family drama. I understand why some of these elements are needed, though I feel there is a whole lot more that could have been carved out to keep the Film as snappy and electric as the first half. A Third Act pivot tries to rectify some of this and put the Film’s bigger themes into perspective, but it just never feels as fully cohesive and fleshed out as it should be. And why so many references to Hitler?
Where Carnahan succeeds a bit better is in his casting. Everyone gets a moment to shine here, no matter their circumstances. Character actors like Will Sasso and Ken Jeong have a blast hamming it up, while Naomi Watts and Michelle Yeoh thrive playing characters that are less serious than their norm. Mel Gibson is menacing in some instances, and rather clumsy and superfluous in others. They all do not hold a candle against Grillo however, who settles in nicely as the type of hardened action hero we always knew he was destined to play. He is clearly having the time of his life here, playing into the action scenes like a seasoned vet and mashing up the comedic, serious and tender moments Roy goes through better than the Film around him can. Some of his narration is a bit questionable, but Grillo’s delivery and style left me laughing and waiting for more.
Boss Level is a fun romp for the most part. Carnahan has been away from the film screen for nearly a decade, so it was nice to see him come back swinging for the fences here. But the weakened Second Act takes away from the solid fun the Cast is having with these characters and this story. With a bit more of a polish, this one could have been truly great. Here’s hoping this will not be the last we will see of Carnahan or this side of Grillo.
VVS Films release BOSS LEVEL on Digital and On-Demand Tuesday, March 9, 2021.