Be warned: Boss Level is trash. You might see the flashy ads that show Frank Grillo, shirtless and snarling, playing out a Groundhog Day meets Vice City scenario, and you might think “that looks like some braindead fun.” Well, you’d be half-right. This sure is braindead.
Grillo reteams with The Grey co-writer/director Joe Carnahan for a smash-em-up action comedy that is achingly unoriginal. Boss Level stitches together its plot from the premises of Happy Death Day and Edge of Tomorrow. Its action hero explains how badass he is by casually comparing himself to Liam Neeson in Taken and Harrison Ford in Raiders of the Lost Ark, except that he’s not a “fake tough guy.” Then, the fleet of mercenaries he must face down day after deadly day is a clumsy collection of stereotypes, cherry-picked from video games and movies, like the evil twins, the sword-wielding Asian assassin, a cold Nazi bitch, and a road-hauling redneck with a pick-up truck. All this might sound like a collection of bonkers bits that are sure to make for a popping pastiche! Nope. One man’s treasure becomes trash in the hands of Carnahan and Grillo, who also produced this pic.
But what’s it all about?
Grillo stars as retired special forces officer Roy Pulver, who is trapped on a day where, for reasons unknown, a slew of hitmen are hunting him down. If he manages to survive the machete-wielder who gives him a rude awakening, then he’s got to face off against a helicopter hovering outside his apartment window, ready to lay waste to his masculine loft. After that, there’s a minivan of hired guns, a disruptive bus, a dangerous doppelganger, and a little person with a penchant for bombs. By the time we meet Roy, he’s already forty times through this time loop, and moves like a dancer bored of the steps. He eye-rolls as he slaughters, and his voiceover drones as he explains with irritation how many times he’d got the timing wrong on leaping out his window to the safety of a passing dump truck. His frustration is supposed to be funny. But frankly, it makes the otherwise intriguing intro feel snoozy, because the hero is already over it.
Frank may be a real tough guy, but he’s not real smart. So, instead of trying to figure out why this is happening, his goal is initially just getting to a colorful waterhole to get wasted before he inevitably gets murdered again. This gives the movie the vibe of an open-world video game, where his path dictates what foes he’ll face or clues he might pick up. But it takes Frank a long time to realize there ARE clues and a quest! The goal is not to get drunk or even survive the day, but to seek out the Big Bad funding these fiends, and save his estranged ex (Naomi Watts) from being murdered. Also, he has a kid, because it’s okay for a tough guy to have a soft side but ONLY WITH A CHILD. When Frank’s not fending off death or blundering about, he’s making jokes that are cringe-worthy and tired.
Screenwriters Chris Borey, Eddie Borey and Joe Carnahan give Frank the comic sensibilities of a ’00s standup, who has probably been outed as a creep by now. So, their hero cracks wise about date rape, then shows he’s a real tough guy by mocking a 40-year-old gamer, declaring him a sexless loser. Weird choice to mock gamers as you create a movie rich in their culture, from the unlimited lives, the wandering quest, the stock character killers, and the LITERAL TITLE OF YOUR MOVIE. Other attempts at comedy feel just as lazy and listless. So, Ken Jeong pops up to deliver such witticisms as “You look like death took a dump!” Physical gags are relegated to nut shots or grim deaths (that played better/funnier in Deadpool and Edge of Tomorrow because their anti-heroes had emotions!) And Mel Gibson gets to spit as a punchline, “F*cking liberals.” Yeah, Mel Gibson. He plays the Big Bad, and with a beard and glower gets to swan around like the stunt casting he is. Sure, he’s had his share of scandals, being outed as a racist, a misogynist, and anti-semite. But hey, now he plays bad guys! He’s leaning into it! Is that a joke? Probably to Boss Level’s team.
There is also scads of action in here. And sometimes it’s even inventive. But I’ve had more fun watching friends play video games like this, because at least there were surprises in store. While Frank might not know the thread, it’s easy for the audience to pick out what his quest will be thanks to
cut scenes egregious exposition dumps that play as flashbacks. It’s honestly shocking. Much of this movie is a flimsy excuse for action sequences, yet these dialogue scenes about movie science and a mysterious McGuffin are criminally long, screeching every bit of momentum to a halt. Later, a similar crawl occurs when father-son bonding comes in the form of a silent video game-playing montage, because writing dialogue is for chumps I guess?
Still, it’s not all bad. Sure, it’s a derivative action slog that’s devoid of originality, charm, and excitement. But it has three supporting players that made me forget—however briefly—what a sh*t show I was watching. First up, Sheaun McKinney kills it as Dave, a casual acquaintance whose totally average day is derailed by Frank. He’s basically the Ned Ryerson of Boss Level, making McKinney the Stephen Tobolowsky, which is to say a wonderfully kooky character actor that I demand to see in many more things. In his scenes, McKinney manages to boot away the glum anti-hero BROODINESS to allow some actual laughs in!
Also bringing life to this deadly dull smash-and-grab is Selina Lo, who plays the aforementioned sword-wielder Guan Yin. She’s given a part that could have been little more than a catchphrase, which is in itself a parody of Mortal Kombat finishing cries. Yet with the flip of her hair and a lavish dose of attitude, she creates a more intriguing character than Grillo ever manages.
Lastly, Michelle Yeoh is in this. Her character has no depth. She is given little to do but look tough and a bit of sword-fighting. But she is Michelle Yeoh and that is enough. Still, it’s a shame this movie got THAT actress and THAT IS ALL THEY GAVE HER TO DO.
So where does this leave us? A word of advice: just don’t. Don’t be tempted by the allure of the snarky action sequences. They are expertly executed but lack verve. Don’t be fooled by the compelling premise, which has been done better over and over before. It’s an insult to all of the excellent time loop movies that have come before. Don’t waste your time on Boss Level. Because if you do, you’re telling Carnahan and his crew that there’s an audience that can’t tell the difference between quality films and their fratty imitations. You’re signaling that lazy jokes trafficking in toxic masculinity are good enough. You’re saying we deserve Boss Level. But let me assure you, even in our darkest, most pandemic-crazed moments, we deserve much, much better than this.
Boss Level premieres on Hulu on March 5.
Header Image Source: Hulu