Film & TV

Laughter, Thrills Few and Far Between in Director Joe Carnahan’s ‘Boss Level’

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Director: Joe Carnahan
Date: March 5

R | 1 hour 41 minutes

In theory, director Joe Carnahan’s latest hyper-macho action movie “Boss Level” is a forgettable, but tolerable entry in the never-ending cycle of streaming service dumps that has replaced the straight-to-DVD industry.

In practice, it’s one of the worst films of the last decade, a scourge on the concept of filmed media and an insult to its viewers. 

Starring Frank Grillo as retired special forces soldier Roy Pulver, the film is yet another “Groundhog Day” riff, beginning with Pulver narrowly evading assassination-by-machete, then dispatching an array of henchman while Grillo provides the worst stream-of-consciousness narrated exposition ever recorded.

Basically, Pulver is just a normal dude’s dude with highly specialized military training, an ex-wife (Naomi Watts) and a drinking problem. He normally likes to chill out and be buff in his luxury apartment, but his ex is a high-tech, super secret scientist, and ever since he visited her at work yesterday, he’s stuck in this freaking time loop! Every time he dies, he wakes up back at the start — what’s up with that?

Grillo’s narration isn’t quite that bad, but it’s close, and it continues for nearly the film’s entire runtime. 

Premise established, Pulver begins going about his day. At his first stop, it becomes clear Carnahan and his co-writers Chris and Eddie Borey don’t really understand time-loop movies beyond their visual appeals. 

Courtesy of Hulu Released March 5, “Boss Level” is the latest iteration of the “Groundhog Day” trope.

Pulver has no real routine — he just goes to a bar after evading assassination, then drinks until his assassins catch up and finish the job. That’s a fine modulation of the format, except for the film’s inability to actually modulate the format.

Pulver eventually latches onto the reason for his time loop, and in the process of slaying his assassins realizes he needs sword training. A lucky break, since there’s an expert swordfighter visiting Pulver’s bar of choice on the day he’s doomed to repeat. Carnahan and the Boreys destroy their film’s only distinctive choice, preferring convenience over creativity.

The honest truth is that none of this should matter. Carnahan’s brand is clear — this man is sad, these people want to kill him and if the man kills them he won’t be sad anymore. All that matters is the action, and the film fails there, too.

Grillo is a natural talent, but Carnahan’s film saps all of his charm and reduces his physical skills to nothing through a series of milquetoast action sequences that leave almost no impression. The film’s budget is reportedly near $50 million, and not a cent of it shows up on screen. There are sword fights and gun battles and exploding helicopters, and it all looks terrible.

On top of that, Mel Gibson is back in the saddle and revamping his career as the big bad, Clive Ventor. It’s okay to hire washed-up anti-semites, though — there’s a Nazi character inexplicably inserted in the movie who Pulver shoots “for the Jews,” so Carnahan gets it, you guys!

There’s myriad more beats like this in the film — including a casual one-liner about date rape — but I’ll spare readers the agony. The film is as lazy and careless with its humor as it is with its action and science fiction elements.

In truth, Watts is the film’s best element, and she appears for about 10 minutes as the hastily sketched blonde woman in a lab coat who is Pulver’s ex-wife Jemma Wells. 

Carnahan’s film attempts to build momentum with quick pacing and frantic twists, but when he’s given a performer capable of delivering lines that aren’t quips and navigating scenes that aren’t gun battles, he’s completely lost.

“Boss Level” is a puzzle box of shit, a derivative piece of trash disguised as a different piece of also derivative trash with a big tough-guy-who-loves-his-family sticker slapped over the top.

“Boss Level,” rated R, is now streaming on Hulu.

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