Boss Level is high-octane fun that traps Frank Grillo in a deadly time loop where he’s forced to fight against a gang of assassins again and again
Frank Grillo has long since proved himself to be a formidable action star in his own right, appearing in mega franchise blockbusters like two Captain America movies and Avengers: Endgame, as well as The Purge series. He possesses that kind of classic 80s action hero swagger brought to the modern day – more Jason Statham than Arnold Schwarzenegger, with a good bit of that Sylvester Stallone attitude tossed in. He’s the kind of guy who takes just as many hits as he dishes out and keeps on trucking with a weathered grin.
Grillo has produced a couple of films for himself, namely 2017’s Wheelman and 2019’s Point Blank where he starred alongside fellow Marvel alum Anthony Mackie, but none play to his strengths quite as perfectly as Boss Level, which he produced alongside filmmaker Joe Carnahan. Carnahan – who previously worked with Grillo on the Liam Neeson survival flick The Grey – had been working on the movie since 2012, and it faced a rocky journey to its eventual release, originally scheduled for a 2019 premiere before being acquired by Hulu for a 2021 date. Carnahan is known for providing high octane thrills with films like Smokin’ Aces and The A-Team, but Boss Level just may be the most fun one his films has ever been.
Grillo stars as Roy Pulver, a former special forces captain who finds himself stuck in an endless time loop where he’s attacked and killed by a gang of mercenaries. Every day, Roy is awakened by a man attempting to slice him open with a machete. If he survives that, an armed helicopter appears outside his window and riddles him with bullets, and if he survives that, he’s chased down by a colorful cast of killers seeking to shoot him, impale him, decapitate him, blow him up, and everything else you can think of. Roy has no idea why this is happening to him or who any of these people even are, and he’s never able to get very far into the day before he’s dead and has to start all over.
Roy describes his stint in purgatory as “being stuck in a video game on a level you just can’t beat”. In case it wasn’t obvious by its title, Boss Level wears its video game aesthetics on its sleeve – one scene literally takes place at an underground video game tourney – giving Roy’s world an eccentrically heightened sense of reality and tossing him into car chases, shootouts, and sword fights that take just as much inspiration from good ol’ B-movie action schlock and martial arts cinema. It’s all great fun and the cast is extremely game for it, committing whole-heartedly to even the cheesiest of lines (“Shit’s about to get steel”) and giving the exciting over-the-top action a charming sense of vivacity and humor.
After countless attempts to survive the day, Roy begins to resign himself to his fate, only bothering to fight his way down to the local bar to get as tanked as he can before he’s found and killed again. We’re shown that he used to be a decent guy who was married to a scientist named Jemma (Naomi Watts), but he fled from his responsibilities once the two of them had a child, Joe (played by Grillo’s actual son Rio). Jemma had been working on a top secret device known as The Spindle under the command of Colonel Vector (Mel Gibson), and Roy soon begins to connect the dots as to what’s happening to him and how to possibly stop it.
Boss Level grows in scale with science fiction silliness, but still manages to keep things grounded with the obvious but sweet sentiment that maybe what Roy needs is to spend a little less time drinking and kicking ass and a little more time with his wife and kid. Grillo’s scenes bonding with his son are genuinely endearing and offer a nice counterbalance to the intentionally silly warfare that surrounds them, and it gives the film a solid enough emotional center to uphold its ludicrously fun action.
With a wonderful supporting cast that includes Will Sasso, Michelle Yeoh, Ken Jeong, Annabelle Wallis, Selina Lo, and Sheaun McKinney, Boss Level is a thoroughly enjoyable thrill ride that provides just as many laughs as it does badassery. It’s the kind of movie that blasts Boston during its best scenes. They don’t make ‘em like this much anymore.
Boss Level is now streaming on Hulu.