It's "Groundhog's Day" meets "John Wick," in one of the most entertaining, surprisingly funny action films you'll ever see.
"Boss Level" is not based on any particular video game, but it just may be the very best video game movie ever made.
Roy Pulver (Frank Grillo) is used to being killed. Destined to re-live the same day over and over again, this special day just happens to be the day that he dies.
He wakes up each morning to a machete-wielding assassin in his downtown apartment loft, and before he has a chance to grab his coffee there is a machine-gunner poised on a helicopter right outside his window. Even if he manages to survive getting out of his own quarters, he's met - no matter where he goes - by a team of deadly assassins, each with a "certain set of skills" and who he's never seen before, with names like Kaboom (Aaron Beelner), Smiley (Michael Tourek), The German Twins (Rampage Jackson and Rashad Evans) and Guan Yin (Selina Lo), a samurai-sword-wielding killer whose name he only knows because she announces after each kill: "I'm Guan Yin, and I'm the one who has done this."
When we meet Roy, he has died over 140 times, and he has never once made it to 1pm, let alone the next day, without dying. He has found that if he makes it to a small nearby diner by a certain time, he can drink there for a good spell of time before the assassins find him. There he chats with Chef Jake (Ken Jeong) and an annoying security-expert at the bar, while watching a quiet woman (Michelle Yeoh) at a nearby table who is apparently a renowned sword-fighting champion. I wonder if these characters could be of some use to him.
When he tires of dying, he thinks back to the "day before" this time loop started...how his scientist wife, Jemma (Naomi Watts) and her cigar-chomping boss, Colonel Clive Ventor (Mel Gibson), might play into all of this, and if there is indeed a way for it to ever end. He also longs to reunite with his estranged young son, Joe (played by Frank Grillo's real-life son, Rio), who on this repeated day, has skipped school to attend a retro-video-gaming tournament.
For anyone who has ever played a side-scrolling action video game (much like ones referenced in the film, like "Double Dragon" for example, but even games like "Super Mario Bros."), you will be able to relate to what the main character is going through. Many of these nostalgic games gave you an infinite set of lives at your disposable, and just as you would master one portion of a level, you would inevitably run into a more difficult portion to follow. With time, practice and patience, you would eventually get through, and in many cases the game would become "easy" to play, as you could almost get by on muscle memory alone (for me, I think of "Mike Tyson's Punch Out!," a classic NES game where it took me weeks, perhaps months, to beat good ole' King Hippo...but once I learned what to do, it became as easy-breezy as KO'ing Glass Joe).
"Boss Level" captures this video game experience like no other film really has, with a sharper tone than a film like "Scott Pilgrim vs. The World" and a hammier star at its center. Gibson in fact, is pushed somewhat to the side of this one, but does get to utter some of the film's funniest lines, like when he blurts out, "Fucking Liberals!" Throughout, the movie is not only laugh-out-loud funny, but it's also somewhat of a satire of the action genre as a whole...the sinister company that Gibson runs is even called "Dynow" (die now...get it?).
For an industry in desperate need of escapism, "Boss Level" is tons of fun. Play this one on repeat.
Genre: Action, Mystery, Sci-Fi.
Run Time: 1 hour 40 minutes.
Starring: Frank Grillo, Mel Gibson, Naomi Watts, Will Sasso, Ken Jeong, Selina Lo, Michelle Yeoh.
Directed by Joe Carnahan ("Stretch," "The Grey," "The A-Team," "Smokin' Aces").
"Boss Level" is available on Hulu on Friday, March 5th, 2021.
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