Boss Level Review: Bad Title, Passable Movie
The video game connection feels as wonky as PS1/N64 era graphics look.
I appreciate the director/writer combination. It gives a director a lot of freedom–barring studio interference–to bring their creation to the screen and showcase their identity in a more absolute way. The director/writer of Boss Level, Joe Carnahan, has plastered fairly compelling personality over most of the projects that I’ve seen his name attached to–Narc, Smokin’ Aces and The Grey, specifically.
Are these all amazing movies? No, but they are sufficiently entertaining and left a good enough impression on me that when I saw his name attached to Boss Level I was intrigued. Then I learned that one of my favourite actresses, Naomi Watts, was also involved. Add in Frank Grillo and Mel Gibson and surely there’s a recipe for success here, right?
If you haven’t guessed by the title of this review, Boss Level is passable. It’s about Roy Pulver, a former special ops officer who gets trapped in a Groundhog Day time loop, forced to repeat the same violent day over and over again. If you’ve seen any time loop movie then you already likely know the pace in which the plot is going to unfold, but just in case you’re less familiar with them, I won’t explain it. Just know that despite its attempt to fuse high-octane action into the formula it’s still quite predictable. It really lacks the deceptively clever script quality that some of his other movies have.
Even if the narrative is basic time loop stuff, can viewers at least expect something stylish, akin to Carnahan’s underrated 2007 comedic action-thriller, Smokin’ Aces? If you merely watched the opening you might think so, because it begins with a video game character select screen as it briefly introduces a bunch of the characters. Get it, Boss Level! Games!
The reaction of some of the audience, potentially?
Listen, I’ve been a gamer for thirty years and I’m not above being tricked by video game connections in movies. I’m not beyond nostalgia or marking out–to use a pro-wrestling term–for anything video game related. So let me tell you that the conjunction between cinema and gaming here is tenuous at best. It’s not strong enough to be enticing to people like me, and it’s so weak that it comes across as unnecessary.
One might argue that video games play an important role in a certain relationship that forms later on. I couldn’t deny that, because for a moment there’s actually a reason to have an arcade present in the film. But did Carnahan really need to begin the film with a video game homage and name it after a term in the community? It didn’t add anything.
If you think I’m making a big deal out of something frivolous, just know that I’m only doing it so my readers don’t go into watching this thinking that it’s anything inspired stylistically. There is a certain endearing energy present, especially when the events kick it into high gear; quick edits and a reliance on repetition to enforce the struggle that the characters go through. These elements are not original, however, because many time loop films feature them.
The cast could have been given so much more to work with because it’s a solid group. Naomi Watts is wonderful as usual but she’s terribly underused–it makes sense in context of the film but she’s a performer that’s capable of powerhouse performances. Mel Gibson is suitably menacing, but he too is underused. I know people still have their issues with Gibson but as an actor I’ve been enjoying some of these roles that he’s been picking. His grizzled appearance and attitude was befitting of his character here.
I mostly just wanted to show a picture of Naomi Watts.
This leaves Frank Grillo, who I am intentionally giving two paragraphs to because this guy’s own arc has been noticeable to me. Somehow I’ve seen thirteen films that he’s been in but he completely flew under my radar until he showed up as knock-off Punisher in The Purge: Anarchy. That’s not a complaint, he was my favourite part of it! I just never revered him in any meaningful way outside of that.
Here is is also a grizzled (alcoholic) retiree with combat training, who boozed his way through loss until he got trapped in the loop. He’s definitely a convincing action star in both bulk and prowess, but his ability to truly bring a character to life in all regards is lacking. He does anger well and he can be a stone-faced killer well, but when it comes to the more difficult emotional beats you could have plucked him out and put any name actor in there and they could have done the same–or a better–job. He’s fine, ultimately, but hardly impressive.
That’s okay because the fact that he excels when conflict erupts helps the film tremendously in its final act. As I said, the guy is believable so watching him shoot, punch, sword fight, and throw people around as he tried to save the day was exciting. It helped that morsels of the choreography showcased the ingenuity that I expected from the writing–it’s not John Wick, Kingsman: The Secret Service or even Extraction levels, but it occasionally shines bright.
I’ll end my review by mentioning the ending of the flick itself. It’s sure to be controversial if the release of this film builds any steam for it, not because anything substantial, offensive or neat happens, but because Carnahan chose to end it at a questionable time. In my opinion it’s unsatisfactory–even though I can be a fan of these kinds of endings–because it didn’t earn it. It didn’t boost the plot, themes or messaging. It made me feel colder than I would have liked; a sentiment which could be extended to the rest of the film, despite enjoying it somewhat.
He thinks Naomi Watts is still hot and so do I.
THAT'S ENOUGH, GET TO THE SCORE
FRANK KILLS PEOPLE... NO THIS ISN'T THE PUNISHER!
I’ll reiterate that despite my criticisms it’s still an adequate usage of your time, but I wouldn’t ever give it a ringing endorsement. It doesn’t bring much of a flair to the time loop film, but the action sequences are pretty fun and there’s a talented cast present that is given suboptimal material to work with.