Boss Level (2021) ☆☆☆(3/4): Another time loop flick of this year

As far as I remember, “Boss Level” is the fourth time loop flick I saw during last several months. In last year, I watched Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti stuck in their comic time loop in “Palm Springs” (2020), and then I happened to revisit “Groundhog Day” (1993) at a local theater, which has been the gold standard for every other time loop flick since it came out. In this year, I saw Kathryn Newton and Kyle Allen stuck in a similar time loop in “The Map of Tiny Perfect Things” (2021), and now I get “Boss Level”, which attempts to mix the logics of video game into its very familiar time loop setting.

Anyway, I have to point out to you that “Boss Level” is not exactly the latest addition to this time-honored genre territory. It was actually shot in 2018, but then it somehow got its release in US delayed again and again during next three years, and you may appreciate the ironic aspect of how repeatedly it was stuck in post-production limbo before its recent eventual release in US (The movie was also released in South Korean theaters a few days ago, by the way).

At the beginning, the movie promptly and quickly establishes how monotonous and repetitive things have been for its tough guy hero at present. Whenever Roy Pulver (Frank Grillo), a former special forces soldier who has virtually been at the bottom of hedonism and alcoholism, wakes up, he always finds himself in the same early morning with some young woman with whom he happened to spend some time at his frequent bar during the previous night, and he also always has to deal with a bunch of various professional killers, who always track him down and then kill him in the end before the day is over. Having already gone through the same day more than 100 times without much possibility of escape, Pulver has been quite numb and cynical to his seemingly hopelessly circumstance, but he still keeps trying anyway as hoping for any possible loophole to be found someday.

We soon get to know a bit about how Pulver got himself stuck in this vicious and violent time loop. During the previous day, his ex-wife Jemma (Naomi Watts) had him come to some state-of-the-art research center where she has worked under maximum security, and, not so surprisingly, she turned out to have a hidden purpose behind her back. She did not tell much about her ongoing project during her private conversation with Pulver, but she still looks suspicious enough to make her shady boss, Colonel Clive Ventor (Mel Gibson), decide that she as well as her husband must be taken care of as soon as possible.

After finally coming to grasp what exactly is happening to him again and again, Pulver embarks on making much more progress than before, and the screenplay by director Joe Carnahan and his co-writer Chris and Eddie Borey accordingly serves us a series of over-the-top moments of violence and mayhem. For example, there is a cringe-inducing part involved with Pulver’s hurried attempt to confirm how those assassins can track him down every time, and that is just the beginning of many exaggeratingly violent moments including the one associated with a young Chinese female assassin ready to wield her very, very, very sharp sword.

Mainly because our hero is killed and then revived again and again throughout the film, we often observe his repetitive plight from the distance while amused by its many preposterous aspects from time to time, but the movie cheerfully bounces from one expected narrative point to another via some wit and humor to be appreciated. I will not deny that I chuckled a bit when a certain famous scene from “Raiders of the Lost Ark” (1981) is mentioned at one point, and I was also tickled by the part accompanied with a supporting character played by Michelle Yeoh, who still looks as strong, stately, and graceful as she was in “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” (2000).

In addition, Frank Grillo, who also participated in the production of the film, provides some gravitas while willingly throwing himself into the dark and violent humor of the movie. During the relatively quieter moments involved with Pulver’s little young son, Grillo ably balances his performance between humor and sincerity, and that is the main reason why we are a bit touched by when Pulver subsequently makes a very risky decision for what should be done for his son around the end of the story. Considering how wild and preposterous the rest of the film is, the finale does not have to be that ambiguous in my humble opinion, but it still mostly works at least, and Grillo’s solid acting surely carries the film to the very end.

In case of the rest of the main cast members, they fill their respective spots around Grillo as much as demanded. While Naomi Watts is regrettably wasted in her thankless functional role, Selina Lo has a little juicy fun as Pulver’s most fearsome opponent, and Mel Gibson, who has been drawn more to antiheroes and villains these days as recently shown from “Dragged Across Concrete” (2018), gladly chews his every moment as the final bad guy of the story.

Overall, “Boss Level” is less impressive than Carnahan’s previous film “The Grey” (2011), which chilled and terrified me a lot with those scary and menacing Alaskan wolves when I watched it at a local theater. It is also one or two steps below its several fellow time loop flicks such as “Edge of Tomorrow” (2014), but it has style and humor to energize its familiar story setting, so I recommend it with some reservation. Sure, it does not break any new ground at all, but it plays well within its genre rules and conventions, and that is fairly enough to me for now.

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