This article originally appeared on The Film Experience
Groundhog Day is becoming its own genre of film. Groundhog Day as a horror film -> Happy Death Day. Groundhog Day as a sci-fi war film -> Edge of Tomorrow. Groundhog Day as an existential romantic comedy -> Palm Springs. Joe Carnahan’s Boss Level continues the tradition as a violent action film while maintaining a fun tone, without crossing into being offensive.
Frank Grillo stars as Roy Pulver, a former special forces soldier who wakes up every morning with people trying to kill him. There is the machete-wielding guy when he wakes up, the helicopter with a minigun outside his apartment window, and the countless assassins who chase him down when he runs away. Roy has no idea why this is happening, but he usually can’t make it past noon before dying and starting again.
Roy is tired and annoyed by all this. He doesn’t care much about getting out of the timeloop, but just wants to know why this is all happening. He recalls the day before when he visits his ex-wife Jemma (Naomi Watts) at her office. She is working on something called the Osiris Spindle under the watchful eye of Colonel Clive Ventor (Mel Gibson). Jemma clips off some of Roy’s hair and he leaves none the wiser.
Roy narrates his daily experiences to put the true toll of this monotony into perspective. If his mind drifts and focuses on something else in the morning, he’s dead and has to start again. He extols how often he had to get the timing down before he is successfully able to land in a passing sand truck after jumping from his window. He also comments how painful some his deaths can be, especially sword-related ones.
Grillo plays all this pretty straight, but he is still funny without the constant wise-cracking. The physicality is naturally there, but his charisma was the biggest surprise. He is harsh, violent and jagged, but he still exudes likeability. Every day, he carjacks the same man and mocks his primal scream almost every time. One-liners isn’t his thing, he’s too tired for all of that. He is in almost every scene and commands your attention. He also knows his limitations. He doesn’t try to overdo anything and sticks primarily to the punching and shooting.
Watts is in the film for no more than 10 minutes. It feels almost criminal to have an actress of Watts’ caliber and give her such a thankless role. A few other famous faces pop up and disappear as quickly as they arrived. Ken Jeong plays a bartender for no reason. Annabelle Wallis is a lady at a bar. When Michelle Yeoh shows up, you get excited for the potential. But alas, she shows up to move the plot forward and leaves without anything substantial. Even Gibson, who is billed as the main villain, doesn’t do much of anything. He growls a few lines about controlling time and power, but the film itself seems uninterested in what he is saying. In the middle of a monologue, Roy complains in voiceover about how dumb the speech is.
My biggest surprise was the general tone of the film. The various assassins run the gamut of race and gender. There is a Chinese swordswoman, a pair of female assassins, black German twins, a hillbilly with a spear gun, and even a dwarf with an affinity for explosives. As Roy dispatches each (or is dispatched by them), he does so without insult or offense. He doesn’t care about being killed by a woman and even calls the dwarf by the correct name. Other filmmakers (like Guy Ritchie) will lean into the inherent racism or sexism with whom the characters interact with. Boss Level avoids it completely and doesn’t even act like it was hard to work around.
The action itself is well-paced and frenetic, while the violence is prevalent but not grisly. If someone gets shot, they just get shot and die. If a character is beheaded, their head is off and that is that. The violence is more matter-of-fact than invasive. Nothing feels gross. Also, the general idea of how Roy got stuck in the time loop feels intentionally superfluous. When it comes to time travel, the less explained the better.
Action films have seen a renaissance lately and Boss Level does nothing to sully that reputation. At a brisk 93 minutes, your time is well spent in an enjoyable setting with a strong leading man punching and shooting his way through day after monotonous day.