Joe Carnahan’s (Narc, Smokin’ Aces) film Boss Level has quite the history. Shot for an estimated $45 million it was originally sold to Entertainment Studios in early 2018, but that deal fell through. There was a screening at the Arclight Cinemas in Los Angeles in February that generated mostly positive reactions. And then nothing. Until suddenly streaming service Hulu grabbed the rights for what is said to be somewhere in the “low-eight-figure range”. Of course, I had to see what kind of film could cause this much fuss.
Ex special forces Captain Roy Pulver (Frank Grillo, Jiu Jitsu, Beyond Skyline) wakes up every morning to a machete-wielding stranger trying to kill him. And it gets worse from there. He keeps reliving the last day of his life, forced to futilely battle the same assassins over and over. Some days he gets farther than others, but it always ends with his death at 12:47 PM.
He has no idea why they’re trying to kill him but he knows who can tell him, his ex, Gemma (Naomi Watts, King Kong, Funny Games). However, she’s already dead. Or not, it’s complicated. Her boss Col. Clive Ventor (Mel Gibson, Mad Max, Dangerous), knows. The problem is staying alive long enough to get to him. Because he’s the reason Gemma is or isn’t dead. And he wants Roy dead. All because of something called The Osiris Spindle.
Carnahan and co-writers Chris and Eddie Borey (Open Grave) start the film with a twenty-minute walkthrough of Roy’s recurring day, which he narrates for us. It certainly gets the film off to an action-packed start as we see him face off against everything from a helicopter to swordswoman Guan-Yin (Selina Lo, Triple Threat, The Debt Collector) to a dwarf with a thing for explosives (Aaron Beelner, Amazon Hot Box).
Once we get a feel for the stakes the film backtracks and fills us in on some of what led up to it all as Roy manages to remember an important detail. Then jumps back into the eternal present as he tries to take advantage of what he remembered. Thankfully he also notices something new there too, because seeing the same events over and over, even with minor variations, was starting to get old.
If the film’s title makes you think of a video game, its structure reinforces it. Roy can only manage to go so far before he runs into an obstacle he can’t get past. Then he has to keep dying until he figures out a solution to the problem. Watch for Michelle Yeoh (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Mechanic: Resurrection) as one of those solutions.
Boss Level takes some odd turns as Roy has to deal with Joe (Rio Grillo) his son with Gemma. Only Joe doesn’t know Roy is his father. This adds a human dimension to him, and the film. It feels a bit like a cliché when he first encounters him, but thankfully there’s more going on than it first appears.
On the downside, a couple of scenes of vehicular mayhem are ruined by the obvious use of CGI. And the ending, or maybe I should say non-ending, is a major problem. It’s as if, after getting through everything else and making it believable at least by film logic, Carnahan drew a blank on how to resolve it. And instead of at least taking a swing at it, he and the Borey brothers just left things hanging. They couldn’t resolve their boss level as it were.
Despite that, there’s no way I couldn’t recommend Boss Level. There’s plenty of action and Grillo shows once again that he’s one of the most underrated actors in Hollywood. Most surprisingly, for the first time in a long time, Mel Gibson actually gives a decent performance, in part playing on his own persona and image. He’s amusingly evil as Ventor, one of the best Bond villains I’ve seen in a non-Bond film.
Boss Level will premiere on Hulu sometime in 2021. Since, unlike Netflix, Hulu only operates in the US, who knows when, or in what format it will turn up in other countries. It is, however, worth watching for.