MOVIE "Boss Level"
WHERE Streaming on Hulu
WHAT IT'S ABOUT: Stop me if you've heard this one before: a character is stuck in a time loop, doomed to repeat the same day over and over again, until he can figure out what's going on and find his way to be freed from this purgatory. Each day ends the same as the one before: with his violent death, this time at the hands of a multitude of assassins pursuing him for inexplicable reasons.
Yes, "Boss Level" returns to this tired and familiar well once again, in what stands as the low-rent action picture counterpart to far more interesting and creative fare ranging from "Russian Doll" to "Palm Springs" and the excellent, underrated Tom Cruise sci-fi movie "Edge of Tomorrow."
It stars Frank Grillo (best known for playing the villain Crossbones in some Marvel movies and the protagonist in "The Purge" sequels) as Roy Pulver, a retired Delta Force soldier who suddenly finds himself waking up each morning, dodging a machete-wielding attacker, hiding as a machine gun-touting baddie in a helicopter pulverizes his apartment and going about his day from there.
The picture is directed by Joe Carnahan ("The Grey") and co-stars Mel Gibson, Michelle Yeoh and Naomi Watts. It's streaming on Hulu.
MY SAY Hats off to Carnahan and company for trying to make an '80s action movie in the third decade of the 21st century, but there are two key elements missing from "Boss Level" when compared to, say, the Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle "The Running Man": a sense of humor and an actual story to accompany the fighting.
That's not to say the filmmakers of "Boss Level" aren't trying to be funny: the protagonist dies in outlandish and comical fashion; Grillo expends endless amounts of breath describing the best and worst ways to go in the voluminous narration; Gibson, playing the bad guy, glowers menacingly behind a giant desk and robust salt-and-pepper beard.
But it amounts to a grueling and miserable ordeal, with a plot that barely even warrants mentioning because of the extent to which it amounts to a giant MacGuffin.
There's simply nothing going on here beyond the most basic, bottom-line concept — no creative storytelling or stylistic innovations, or setups that appear to even slightly regard Pulver's existence within the framework of some larger satirical purpose.
"Boss Level" is, in other words, not funny or provocative at all, but simply the droning spectacle of this unlikable man being killed and then killed again, all the while unpacking tiny clues to a mystery with contours that are so forgettable you barely remember them as you're watching it unfold.
That it co-stars excellent actors such as Watts and Yeoh, who are given absolutely nothing to do and deserve so much better, only makes the experience that much sadder.
Grillo can beat people up convincingly, but whatever acting talent he might have is kept at bay here, especially in scenes where he has to play up any other aspect of the character's personality. Gibson knows his way around these sorts of roles, but isn't on-screen enough to register.
There's no rule that says escapist entertainment has to aspire to anything more than the basics, and it's perfectly acceptable to come out with a movie that's simply exactly what you see on its surface and nothing more. But there's got to at least be a reason to keep watching.
BOTTOM LINE This is a miserable movie that offers a subpar retread of a very familiar concept.