Boss Level

I watched that movie PALM SPRINGS recently. It’s a GROUNDHOG DAY time loop romantic comedy type thing that uses the concept in a smart way that makes it a parallel to depression and hopelessness, and it’s just a funny movie and I enjoyed it. I also really liked HAPPY DEATH DAY (GROUNDHOG DAY as a slasher movie) and its sequel HAPPY DEATH DAY 2 U was pretty good too.

But I feel a little weird about “GROUNDHOG DAY” being a genre now. The first is still the best and most profound iteration of the form, and it’s such a distinctive premise that any movie that does a spin on it can’t help but feel a little more like biting than following a tradition. So I wasn’t exactly jumping to see Joe Carnahan’s BOSS LEVEL, which is GROUNDHOG DAY crossed with an action movie. I’m not too excited about “life is a video game” concepts either, so the title didn’t help.

But I shouldn’t have hesitated because this is a whole lot of fun, one of Carnahan’s best, and I think the script by Chris & Eddie Borey (OPEN GRAVE) and Carnahan earns the use of the time loop. Most of these movies wisely never explain the reason for the phenomenon – this feels very different because it’s all about him figuring out what’s doing this to him and why, so he has a more traditional, specific problem to solve (though along the way he learns life lessons like in the other ones).

The protagonist is ex-Delta Force tough guy Roy (Frank Grillo, WOLF WARRIOR 2). Similar to PALM SPRINGS, we meet Roy when he has already been stuck in the time loop for a while and gotten used to it, a situation he explains to us in nearly wall-to-wall narration. Every day he wakes up when a dude swings a machete at his head, and then he spends the day running from and battling with various colorful assassins trying to kill him for unknown reasons.

Through trial and error he’s developed a routine for how to deal with the knife-wielder and the helicopter firing a PREDATOR-style gun into his apartment. He knows his opponents’ moves well enough to dodge them like Nic Cage in NEXT, and he’s even worked in a way to get a sip of coffee before splashing it in a guy’s face. Then he jumps out the window into a passing truck, rolls off and carjacks the same guy every day.

He tells us about his various pursuers, who remind me of the unhinged spirit of SMOKIN’ ACES, though this is a much tighter, more controlled movie. There’s a sword lady named Guan Yin (Selina Lo, THE DEBT COLLECTOR, TRIPLE THREAT, SCORPION KING 3) who always yells “I am Guan Yin, and I have done this!” after killing him. There’s a 4’ 3” explosives expert (Aaron Beelner, MONSTER HUNTER) always attaching bombs to him – Roy doesn’t get to ask the guy’s name, so he decides it’s “Kaboom.” There are “German Twins” played by Rampage Jackson (Carnahan’s THE A-TEAM, Cooper’s THE MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN) and Rashad Evans (WARRIOR). We get to see lots of cuts to Roy’s previous failures. This movie likely has the record for most decapitations of its main character.

But he’s never managed to make it past a certain time of day no matter what he tries, so he has settled for going into a certain Chinese diner every day, sitting at the bar and getting hammered until they all show up and kill him. Or at least that’s the part of the day he’s been hung up on when the movie starts. But one day he accidentally makes it later in the day and realizes maybe there are other things to try, and reasons for hope.

We start to suspect what’s going on when he tells us about the day before the day he’s stuck on, when he went to see his estranged wife Jemma (Academy Award nominee Naomi Watts, DOWN a.k.a. THE SHAFT) at her job at a fucking defense contractor laboratory doing secretive experiments with a huge scary machine, and she was acting weird and trying to tell him something he didn’t understand. Geez, I wonder if that could be related, Roy? He does not make a good impression on Jemma’s scary boss (Academy Award winner Mel Gibson, BLOOD FATHER), who sends a team of security meathead giants to get rid of him. The lead henchman Brett is played by Will Sasso (THE THREE STOOGES), who’s best known from Mad TV, I think, but he’s 6’ 3” and makes a good scary security asshole.

Quite a cast there, but the one that caught my eye most was Michelle Yeoh. I read someone saying she was wasted in the movie, so I had no illusions that she’d be in it much. Luckily I also disagree with the criticism. She has a small role but it’s more memorable than, like, THE MECHANIC: RESURRECTION because it absolutely honors her, first building her up as something special, then basing her one big scene around letting her fight with a sword again. The thing is I can’t think of a single other actor that would’ve been as cool for that role as Yeoh. Even if it was Donnie Yen, say, it wouldn’t have the same excitement for specifically playing a sword master. Maybe Sonny Chiba? But Yeoh is more exciting.

The do-over gimmick allows for lots of over-the-top mayhem, including hand-to-hand, guns, falls and vehicles. Roy gets shot up, blown up, chopped up, hit by a bus and flies through the windshield into the bus and tries to stand back up in front of the horrified passengers… You name it.

(Second unit director/stunt coordinator: Frank Torres [A STAR IS BORN, POINT BLANK]
Fight choreographer: Dan Rizzuto [Wu Assassins]
Fight choreographer/fight coordinator: Bryan Sloyer [previz stunts, FEMALE FIGHT SQUAD])

There’s this popular notion that the only good action heroes are vulnerable ones like John McClane. They take a licking and keep getting back up. It’s definitely one great way to do it, but I hate when people state that as some universal rule – usually as a way of justifying their lack of appreciation for the Steven Seagal classics – partly because it means their hearts do not know the joy of watching Michael Jai White plow through the world’s supply of dumb motherfuckers in BLOOD AND BONE.

But one of the great things about the BOSS LEVEL premise is that it allows him to take both of those approaches to the extreme. We often see him fighting on cheat mode, not only having unfair skill levels, but knowing every single move his foes will make in advance. And yet also he fails disastrously and repeatedly, more than is possible for anybody in a normal movie. You could say he gets to be both Seagal and McClane. But really he gets to be both a god and a chump.

I think this is one of the best showcases so far for the appeal of Grillo, an actor I’d seen in MINORITY REPORT, MOTHER’S DAY and MY SOUL TO TAKE before he really came to my attention with the one-two punch of WARRIOR and Carnahan’s own THE GREY. At this point he has plenty of good vehicles we can point to, but you can never have enough. He’s a veteran who still feels like an exciting new face. Here he does well in the fight scenes, showing off his cartoonishly giant arm veins and a more ridiculously chiseled than usual torso. More importantly he really gets to flex his muscles in the deadbeat-trying-to-do-better characterization department. He’s a likable asshole, which is easier to get humor out of in this life where nihilism seems only fair, where his actions don’t have consequences and are mostly against people who have already murdered him dozens of times. That also makes it easy to enjoy the gleeful carnage waged both by and against him as he tries again and again to beat these guys and solve this puzzle. But its all grounded with some heart courtesy of that classic trope of the gruff jerk bonding with a kid, in this case his son who he’s afraid to tell is his son (Rio Grillo). Actually, now that I realize that’s his real son it’s even sweeter, because he used this story about wanting to spend more time with his son as a way to spend more time with his son.

So, thank you to @hueysheridan and @TheRyanAston on Twitter for reminding me to see this one.

(It’s on Hulu now, by the way.)

This entry was posted on Tuesday, March 23rd, 2021 at 11:46 am and is filed under Action, Reviews, Science Fiction and Space Shit. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

35 Responses to “Boss Level”

  1. Frank Grillo makes this worth seeing. I don’t think the script for anything other than Grillo is any good and the stuff they have Mel doing is embarrasing stuff.

  2. A while ago I realized that it’s impossible to tell a bad timeloop story. Not all of them are instant classics on the level of GROUNDHOG DAY, but it seems to be like a plot device that is impossible to fuck up and I include here stuff like RETROACTIVE, the Marlon Wayans Netflix comedy NAKED or episodes of XENA and STARGATE SG1.

    And damn, didn’t know Will Sasso is in this! I’m a huge fan of this guy, but sadly he seems to be mostly stuck in mediocre sitcoms and shitty c-grade comedies (With occasional gems like LOUDERMILK inbetween). And who could forget the time when he won the respect of wrestling fans everywhere by selling the hell out of a Stunner from Stone Cold Steve Austin? (Skip To 8 minutes, if you don’t wanna watch the whole segment.) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wuB8EY2EnkU

  3. Is Tom Cruise’s Edge of Tomorrow a Groundhog Day movie?

  4. No more than SOURCE CODE is Dan.

  5. This one ended up being a lot of fun, but man, it was touch and go for a minute there. I eventually got used to the fucking wall-to-wall voiceover, but in the first few scenes, it was deadly. Imagine seeing that opening with no narration. You get a cold open where a guy wakes up and seems to be completely unperturbed by the insane violence erupting around him. You watch him go through an over the top action sequence without cracking a sweat, and then he just dies out of nowhere. He immediately wakes up in the exact same spot, and THEN he starts narrating and explaining what you just saw. The way it is now just reeks of cowardice. What if dipshits who’ve never seen a movie before and didn’t read the fucking plot synopsis get confused for like 90 seconds? Better shit all over the carefully crafted visuals with this bald-faced expo-dump delivered straight to the viewer’s earholes like he’s a fucking idiot child getting a lecture on dental hygiene. I believe that is the first rule of narrative: “Don’t show. Always tell. Even when you show, also tell. Then tell some more. Never stop telling.” I believe it says that in italics at the bottom of my MFA.

    I got used to it eventually. The cast makes it work.

    CJ: If you would like to be disabused of the notion that there’s no bad way to do a timeloop story, I recommend a little non-starter of mockbuster called DEATH DAY.

  6. You gotta love a movie where the hero just cannot seem to beat the woman with the sword, even knowing everything she’s going to do, with a gun, so he says fuck it and learns how to fight with a sword. Well, I guess you don’t gotta, but I don’t want to know those people.

  7. Mr M: Challenge accepted (As soon as I get my hands on it, which may take a while).

  8. I mean, you’ve definitely seen worse horror movies. But it does not do any of the things that make a time loop story always worth watching.

  9. My two favorite Grillo performances to date (I haven’t seen that many of his movies) are in WHEELMAN and DONNYBROOK. This doesn’t look promising (and yeah, I’ll say it, Mel Gibson’s presence is a stumbling block for me), but maybe I’ll check it out. The narration can’t possibly be more omnipresent/annoying than CASINO, can it?

  10. Interesting how the Time Loop conceit can now be readily adapted to virtually any genre. From Existential Comedy to Sci-Fi to rom-com (PALM SPRINGS which is really good by the way) to slasher (Maj, I believe you mean HAPPY DEATH DAY don’t you, apparently successful enough to have spawned a sequel) and now to a balls-to-walls action movie which I greatly enjoyed. Carnahan channels a lot of his SMOKING ACES energy in this. Grillo finally gets a meaty action hero role and while their parts are little more than extended cameos, I have no beef with an action movie that shoe-horns Ken Jeong, Naomi Watts and Mel Gibson into the narrative and has the hero learn sword-fighting from Michelle Freaking Yeoh!

    Waiting for the Time Loop Porno, where the hero, in the midst of an epic 3-way, is killed before he can finish i.e he gets off-ed before he gets off (sorry BASIC INSTINCT) and must find a way to break the time loop and finish what he started. It should ideally put it’s lead in a series of interesting encounters and positions, testing his endurance to the max before according him a satisfying finish and a happy ending.

  11. KayKay, he is most likely talking about a low budget horror movie named THE CAMPUS, which was apparently renamed DEATHDAY in some territories for obvious cash-in-on-a-popular-movie reasons.

    My idea for a time loop porno: It’s about a guy who is really popular with the ladies, constantly gets offered sex (It’s a porno after all!) and gladly takes up all these offers. But because of this, his not-sexlife suffers. All his friends and family are mad at him for constantly being late or not showing up, plus having slept with all his co-workers causes a bunch of other problems. Then one day he gets stuck in a timeloop, that restarts whenever he cums. First it’s a lot of fun, because he can have the best of both worlds (I fuck my sexy neighbour now, but in the next timeloop I avoid her and instead go to my mother’s birthday party), but he soon realizes that living the same day over and over is no fun, especially when your plans always get derailed by running into another sexy, really horny woman (or two, three or four). So at some point he has to learn that, while sex is fun, it shouldn’t be the main focus in your life and it’s okay to say “no”. (And maybe he also finds true love. Y’know, for the critics.)

  12. The Undefeated Gaul

    March 24th, 2021 at 12:04 am

    I really liked this one. One of my absolute favorites of last year.

  13. “There’s a 4’ 3” explosives expert”

    I had to re-read that to process that it meant how tall the character was, not that he was an expert on the aspect ratio of ZACK SNYDER’S JUSTICE LEAGUE.

    The comparison of McClane and Segal increases the likelihood that I will watch this.

  14. Short, sweet and satisfying. I liked it a good bit. Same night watched the new action flick on Netflix, Sentinelle. I liked that even more, some fantastic fight scenes in it. I wish it was getting more attention.

  15. That porno idea is hilarious, CJ! It could probably be a mainstream comedy as well as an actual porno. I could also see the likes of Mr Show taking that concept and doing a great parody of this ‘genre’ of movies with it.

    I agree that it’s weird for Hollywood to embrace this as a genre and not a fad. If a bunch of movies come out where the protagonist wakes up as a giant bug in the first scene, does that mean Metamorphosis-likes are a genre too?

  16. Well someone has to come up with the porn title.
    “Groundhog Lay”?

  17. We got off (I hate myself for this, but heeheehee) on a porn tangent on the JUSTICE LEAGUE thread and now on this one. Man, this quarantine has been hard (again, a hate filled heeheehee) on everyone.

  18. I struggle to imagine that I’ll enjoy seeing Frank Grillo dying repeatedly as much as I do seeing Tom Cruise dying repeatedly in EDGE OF TOMORROW, although I can see that Michelle Yeoh will help.

  19. I respectfully submit “Live/Die/ReSkeet” for our hypothetical porno title. Now it’s off to the Justice League thread! And I appreciate the one-two pun-ch Maggie!

  20. Re: CJ Holden

    Sasso sold that stunner to almost HBK levels! I had never seen that clip before, but I’ve got a new respect for the guy.

    Good impression at the start there too, although he clearly lacks Stone Colds ability to catch a beer thrown from anywhere on Earth in his general direction.

  21. Its not a porno, but there is a teen sex comedy flick out there (I wanna say it’s called Premature?) where the premise is every time the kid busts a nut he goes back to the start if the movie. I think. I dont exactly remember I was really high watching it.

    Carnahan is such a strange filmmaker and I feel i should like his stuff more than I do. Narc is good, Grey is good, but great concepts like Stretch, Smokin Aces and A-Team have left me cold and wanting something a little better than what was delivered.

    I’ll still give this a shot, as Grillo is fast becoming one of my favorite go-to ass kickers of late

  22. I was just coming here to recommend Premature, Winchester. It’s not on the level of the A list time loops but it’s fun.

  23. John, they also kinda repeated that segment with the Three Stooges, who weren’t really the most beloved WWE guest stars. But while Sasso’s sell of a chokeslam by Kane isn’t nearly as impressive as the Stunner, it’s still something that makes several professional wrestlers these days look bad. (Also: Great Hulk Hogan impression)


    I might have to check out PREMATURE.

    Also RE: Joe Carnahan, I haven’t seen all of his movies, but I still love SMOKIN’ ACES for what a great slow burn this is. It really takes its sweet time to move all the players in position and then BAM! Shit hits the fan in a really satisfying way. It’s also interesting how hands on he was in season one of THE BLACKLIST. He not just directed three episodes of it (including the pilot), but also wrote one (with a “story by” credit for another) and was credited as executive producer during that time.

  24. CJ, so there are 2 movies with DEATH DAY in the titles about young women forced to relive their brutal murders over and over again? Should I be surprised? We did have 2 movies on skydiving the same year and 2 movies about volcanic eruptions a couple of months apart.

    And speaking of volcanic eruptions, I’m cool with your porn scenario.

    After all, if mutation is triggered by trauma, why not a time-loop by ejaculation?

  25. I sooooooo enjoyed this movie. Great script. Well shot clear action. Incredible supporting cast. Great showcase for Grillo as an actor as well.

    Not liking a movie because you don’t like “personally” One of THE most charismatic actors of any generation, the man who was:

    Martin Riggs
    Mad Max

    is a real shame in my book. I hope in Vern’s too.

  26. I like Mel Gibson movies (including this one, I really liked this one, I’ve seen it twice) and his performances in them, but the guy’s a racist fuckhead asshole in real life, fair play to anyone who can’t overlook that.

  27. Exactly! If LETHAL WEAPON 5: WE’RE BOTH TOO OLD FOR THIS SHIT does see the light of day I’m there 100%

    It doesn’t change that Mel Gibson is an anti semitic and sexist entitled prick in real life. For some people it’s just too much of a hard pill to swallow and you know what? that’s OK.

  28. I think Mel Gibson is one of the greatest leading men of all time, with a powerful screen presence that nobody has yet equaled. I’ll still watch his movies if I think they look good. But if everybody in the film industry decided en masse to never let him make another movie, I’d be cool with it. Yes, the world would lose out on some great films. But what the world needs is not more fewer films, but fewer violent, abusive assholes being placed in positions of power and prestige.

    I’m also in Brodie’s boat. I’m 43 but present much younger. My last ladyfriend was (and there’s no way to say this without sounding like I’m bragging but please believe me when I say that this is the greatest shame of my life) half my age. I’ll (fingers crossed) be dead before she hits menopause. I don’t see that situation repeating itself but I also didn’t see that situation coming in the first place so what the fuck do I know? Better to be safe than sorry.

    Plus, if I was smart enough to stick to age-appropriate women, I’d be smart enough to use a condom every time. Get the snip, Broddie. You’ll sleep easier.

  29. Broddie, I know how to spell your name but my phone refuses to take my word for it. My apologies.

  30. And that shameful confession is in the wrong thread. Le sigh.

  31. Just got around to reading this review now – and as always Vern doesn’t disappoint with some great takes on the movie.

    Even better I got a name check at the end for asking him to watch it! Wow man thanks you have no idea how pathetically happy that makes me!

    One thing I will point out cos no one else has yet is the troll on Liam Neeson in the movie – pretty cute coming from his former collaborators Grillo and Carnahan.

  32. John Bernthal was a solid next best choice, but I always thought Mr Grillo would’ve made the ideal Punisher.

  33. The whole time we’ve been talking about this one I kept thinking Grillo and Bernthal were cut from the same cloth. Bernthal has more nuanced acting chops and Grillo is more adept at the physical stuff, but they are very similar in vibe.

  34. I’ve long since realized I’m an inconsistent hypocrite when it comes to separating the art from the artiste.

    If I’m a fan, it’s easy. If I’m not, then no.

    So, given that I think they’re amazing actors, magnetic screen presences and have filmographies I largely love, it’s easier to separate Mel Gibson, Russell Crowe and Christian Bale the actors from who they most likely are in real life; arrogant assholes with serious anger management issues.

    But I hear the recent news about Armie Hammer being outed as a sexual abuser with cannibalistic fantasies and being dropped from all his upcoming projects and I’m like…Nah, couldn’t give a shit if I never saw him in another movie ever. Doesn’t mean I’m about to bin my blu-rays of THE LONE RANGER or MAN FROM UNCLE either.

  35. I watched this for the second time last night and think I liked it even better. The action is still the best part, but this time I was really able to appreciate Grillo’s performance, and the character itself. I liked that he was borderline toxic masculinity, or tough guy asshole, or whatever you want to label him with, with the things like calling the little person a dwarf and making a joke about the guy he’s carjacking screaming at “date-rape level”. Neither one really that offensive, but you can see this guy isn’t the most enlightened and sensitive of people. This morning I keep thinking and laughing at the scene where he finds out that one woman has Hitler’s gun and he’s so pissed that she’s been killing him with Hitler’s gun the entire time. My favorite being when I looks at it and says in wonder, “I didn’t think it could get worse, but it did.”

    He also developed a different kind of swagger at the end. I don’t know what he did to portray it differently, but at first it held a bit of dickishness, like smirky or something. At the end it was just well earned, straight up, confidence. I don’t know, maybe it was just getting to know the character and there wasn’t a change at all. I loved when he saves her at the end and she asks him how many times it took and he tells her just once. She knows it’s not true, but it’s hot as hell. I don’t care if I’m basic, or whatever it would be, I love a good, “You came for me.”

    They did a great job at structuring this movie. You get thrown right in the deep end and then they take the step back to give you the day before at just the right time and momentum to keep you invested but give you a break from the non-stop action. They were also right on with the structure of the stages you get with this concept (giving up, becoming a better/deeper person, mastering skils, etc.). It was paced and ordered perfectly. The transition between each perfect. I liked it so much I might even watch it again this weekend.

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