Review: Time-Looped Boss Level Serves Up Enough Action to Keep Things Interesting

Well, it’s a new month so it must be time for a new film involving a time loop. I’m likely on the verge of growing weary of them, but the truth is, each one has found a fun and unique way of using the gimmick to tell a fairly standard story in a familiar genre yet manage to make it feel different. The latest is Boss Level from director Joe Carnahan (The A-Team, Smokin’ Aces, The Grey), a filmmaker who certainly knows his way in and out of an action sequence.

Boss Level
Photo by: Quantrell D. Colbert/Hulu

When we join the story, it’s clear that retired special forces officer Roy Pulver (Frank Grillo) is familiar with the fact that he’s never made it out of this specific day alive. He became adept at surviving to a certain point, but an army of crazed, freelance assassins always seems to get him at some point, and in the most violent way possible. But sure enough, he wakes up the next morning—or the same morning—to do it all over again. He’s spent the first 100 times or so trying to figure out how he got in this mess in the first place and eventually traces it back to a project called the Osiris Spindle, whose team leader just happens to be his ex-wife Jemma (Naomi Watts). She works for the particularly paranoid and threatening Col. Clive Ventor (Mel Gibson). She’s building a device for him that might result in a resetting of the space-time continuum, but if used incorrectly, it might also destroy the world. Let’s not get lost in the details, people.

On his Choose Your Own Adventure journey, Pulver discovers that his wife is killed about 15 minutes after he wakes up, and their young son Joe (Rio Grillo, the star’s real-life son) is also in danger, leaving Roy the choice of saving one or the other but not both. And this is on top of avoiding getting murdered by the aforementioned assassins, who are some of the most inspired hired killers I’ve seen since Kill Bill, with the particular highlight being Selina Lo’s sword-wielding Guan Yin, who’s a big fan of beheadings. Boss Level also features Michelle Yeoh all too briefly as a champion sword fighter whom Pulver recruits (over the course of many lives) to teach him to use the sword like a professional in order to defeat Guan Yin.

Director Carnahan keeps the action levels propulsive, the blood spurting, and the twisted personalities on full display, and while results may vary for some, I found Boss Level a decent B-picture adventure with a loose structure, junk science for days, and did I mention the blood? This is Grillo’s sweet spot—he’s fully grizzled, able to crack wise while always being the toughest guy in any room, and fully aware of the absurdity of the story he’s telling us. That said, I could have gone without the smarmy, constant narration, which has a tendency to over-explain just about everything that’s happening right in front of us.

The visual gags are solidly inventive but that doesn’t make them any less immature (get ready for a montage of Grillo repeatedly getting hit in the nuts). But this is a film whose only ambition is to let Grillo kick all the ass he wants, and I won’t lie: it feels good to watch him (and a host of others) do it. Boss Level is far from a great movie, but I had a blast watching it.

The film will be available Friday on Hulu.

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Steve Prokopy

Steve Prokopy is chief film critic for the Chicago-based arts outlet
Third Coast Review. For nearly 20 years, he was the Chicago editor for
Ain’t It Cool News, where he contributed film reviews and
filmmaker/actor interviews under the name “Capone.” Currently, he’s a
frequent contributor at /Film ( and Backstory Magazine.
He is also the public relations director for Chicago's independently
owned Music Box Theatre, and holds the position of Vice President for
the Chicago Film Critics Association. In addition, he is a programmer
for the Chicago Critics Film Festival, which has been one of the
city's most anticipated festivals since 2013.