It seems like forever since I remember Joe Carnahan speaking of his latest feature Boss Level. In a way it has been, as Carnahan has been developing it as far back as 2012, where it was originally called Continue.
It took a while for Carnahan to get the film into production, with it finally shooting back in 2018 to only face distribution troubles. Luckily it has since been picked up by Hulu, with it finally being released in the US this week.
The real question is, was Boss Level really worth the wait, and the answer is a resounding YES. Carnahan’s latest is a wild, energetic actioner filled to the brim with terrifically violent action scenes, gallows humour and an excellent lead performance by the always great Frank Grillo.
Grillo stars as Roy Pulver, a retired special forces soldier who inexplicably finds himself repeating the same day over and over again. This leads to him repeatedly dying at the same time everyday. As he continues to go through this cycle he starts to put pieces of the puzzle together, linking what’s happening to him with the work of his ex-wife Jemma (Naomi Watts) and the machinations of the devious Colonel Clive Ventor (Mel Gibson)
This marks Carnahan’s first full length feature since the enjoyable Stretch (2014). I must say, his career hasn’t exactly gone the way I expected. While his first movie was the mostly forgettable Blood, Guts, Bullets and Octane (1998), his follow up was the excellent Narc (2002), a film that found him being compared to such cinematic greats as William Friedkin and Kinji Fukasaku.
The quality of Narc brought him to the attention of Tom Cruise, who even helped get it distributed. It was from this that he was originally scheduled to helm Mission: Impossible 3 (2006), although the usual “creative differences” we often hear of occurred, with Carnahan finally leaving the production.
Since then his films have varied in style and tone, from the madcap Smoking Aces (2006), the blockbuster The A-Team (2010) to the sombre The Grey (2011). Additionally he has developed a number of films which he originally planned to direct only to leave the productions.
Both Death Wish (2018) and Bad Boys For Life (2020) were once meant to be Carnahan vehicles and it is interesting to think what he would have made of them.
With a six year absence behind the camera, Carnahan proves he hasn’t lost his touch in terms of action, bombarding the audience with a violent action scene right from the get go.
Giving the film the same energy of a video game, right down to the 8-bit game style credits, he keeps things moving at a frenetic pace, taking full advantage of the Groundhog Day (1992) style plot.
Of course, a person reliving the same day over and over again isn’t exactly original. Even Groundhog Day wasn’t the first to use it, although it seems it has become the benchmark.
Still, a lack of originality doesn’t stop Boss Level from feeling fresh. Rather than wasting time with a load of exposition, Carnahan just throws us right into Roy’s predicament, with Grillo establishing what is going on over voiceover.
Unlike Groundhog Day, where we’re introduced to Bill Murray’s plight at the same time as he is, it would seem that Roy has been going through this for quite some time as he is first introduced to the audience.
There is a fear with these types of films that they will become repetitive, but Carnahan gives the action and comedy enough variety to mostly overcome this. A major factor in this is giving leading man Grillo a chance to show off a more comedic side to his character, something that he hasn’t really done in the past.
Carnahan is slightly hamstrung by the production. Clearly Boss Level didn’t have the budget of some of his earlier work like The A-Team, with there being some noticeably sub-par CGI. Still, with this and a reduced production schedule, Carnahan should still be commended for even making a film half as enjoyable as this.
As expected, Grillo gives the film his all. I really can’t understand at this point why Grillo isn’t a bigger star. Sure he gets his own starring vehicles like this, but he really should be headlining Hollywood blockbusters.
He is in ridiculous shape in the film, with it being extremely hard to believe that Grillo is a man in his 50’s. Although the odd stuntman is noticeable, it is clear that Grillo is doing a lot of the action himself, with him getting involved in a mixture of gun battles and hand to hand fights, with him even utilizing a sword at one point.
It isn’t all action for Grillo however. As mentioned, he gets to show off his funny side, especially through his countless death scenes. He also gets to inject some heart into proceedings through his relationship with his son, played by Grillo’s real son Rio.
With Grillo pretty much appearing in every scene, it does mean that the supporting cast is unfortunately given short shrift. Taking out all the controversies that have surrounded him, no one could argue that Mel Gibson has been a great Hollywood action star. Even when given villainous roles in such films as Machete Kills (2013) and The Expendables 3 (2014) he always brings it, giving his characters a sense of menace.
Strangely that sense of menace seems to be missing here. Gibson is still great, but I really wanted him to really go OTT. He never seems to pose a considerable threat to Grillo. Perhaps this is due to the sci-fi trappings of the plot, with anything Gibson ultimately does to Grillo being futile as he will just be able to repeat the day and hopefully correct his previous mistakes.
However he does have one standout scene, with him sharing a story with Naomi Watts of him hunting a wild boar which is both mesmerizing and and a bit terrifying in how Gibson delivers it. Clearly Gibson enjoyed working with both Carnahan and Grillo as they had planned to reunite on the thriller Leo from Toledo which was meant to have been shot last year. It’s unclear at this point if the film is still even going ahead.
The remainder of the supporting cast all do decent work, but like Gibson are somewhat underused.
Naomi Watts has very little screen time but does what she can with her role as scientist/love interest. There’s also action superstar Michelle Yeoh who disappointingly only shows up for a few minutes to show how Grillo becomes so proficient at swordplay. It would have been nice for her to at least get one fight scene, no matter how brief.
Boss Level may not be perfect, but I don’t think many action fans will find fault in its mixture of well realized action set pieces and laugh out loud humour. The film can proudly sit alongside previous Carnahan/Grillo collaborations like Wheelman (2017) and Point Blank (2019), with it being further proof that Carnahan and Grillo are made for each other.
We have more to look forward to from the duo, with them already having wrapped their next venture, Cop Shop (2021), which will find Grillo sharing the screen with Gerard Butler. Let’s hope this doesn’t face the same delays as Boss Level.
Plot: 4/5 Acting: 4/5 Action: 4/5 Overall: 4/5