BOSS LEVEL

Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Joe Carnahan

Stars: Frank Grillo, Mel Gibson, Naomi Watts, Will Sasso, Ken Jeong, Selina Lo, Michelle Yeoh, Sheaunn Mckinney, Rio Grillo.

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Groundhog Day on steroids?

Every day former covert military specialist Roy Pulver (Frank Grillo) wakes up and finds himself fighting off a team of elite assassins. He outwits many, but everyday ends up with his being killed. And the next day he does it all over again, but each time he repeats his experiences he learns a little bit more about what is happening to him and why. Why are so many people trying to kill him? Why does he keep living the same day over and over? It all revolves around something called the Osiris Splinter. Named after the Egyptian God of the afterlife, this powerful device can reset the world and erase the mistakes of our past – no more wars, etc. But in the wrong hands, or used improperly, the device could also theoretically bring about the end of the world. In this respect, with the stakes so high, Boss Level is more like Duncan Jones’ 2011 thriller Source Code and Doug Liman’s 2014 sci-fi actioner Edge Of Tomorrow than Groundhog Day.

The Osiris Splinter is the brainchild of Clive Ventor (a cigar chomping Mel Gibson), a maverick retired former military commander Colonel. But the chief engineer on the project Jemma Wells (Naomi Watts) sees the harmful potential and somehow sets out to warn Roy, the estranged father of her young son Joe, about the project and get him to stop it, using his unique set of skills. Which is how Roy comes to be living the same day over and over. Chief amongst the assassins is Selina Lo, a sword champion who repeatedly decapitates our hero. Part of Roy’s remit also seems to be to get to know his son Joe (played by Grillo’s real life 12-year-old son Rio) better and build a relationship. He receives some help along the way from Dave (Sheaunn McKinney) a paranoid conspiracy theorist, bar tender Jake (Ken Jeong) and sword trainer Dai Feng (Michelle Yeoh, given little to do).

This ambitious mix of high concept sci-fi, time loops and kinetically paced action thriller has been written by Chris and Eddie Borey (Open Grave, etc) and director Joe Carnahan, who take some familiar tropes and make them seem fresh. Director Carnahan (who has given us survival thrillers like The Grey, etc) shapes the material almost like a video game as Pulver tries to outrace the assassins. Carnahan and the Boreys drip feed us the rules of the game and through a series of flashy flashbacks we soon catch up with Roy. The stylistic staging of the high octane action and the adrenaline fuelled carnage resembles Carnahan’s own Smokin’ Aces. The car chases, shootouts, pyrotechnics and violent confrontations are staged with energy and Bryan Sloyer’s fight choreography is quite superb. The special effects are quite well handled for the most part, although a couple of scenes do seem a bit tacky and cheap.

Gibson brings some spark to his role and is clearly having fun here, but the villainous role has too many echoes of the roles in Machete Kills and The Expendables 3. A scene in which he sits down and tells Watts a short story is imbued with such a palpable sense of menace. Grillo has spent much of his career in B-grade action fare and direct to DVD fare, and although he has the physicality required for such a punishing role he lacks the charisma and requisite qualities of a leading man. He brings a the right mix of humour, heroics and a hint of vulnerability to his performance here. Grillo does deliver the occasional snarky one-liner though as he kills some of the assassins, and he provides the snarky voice over narration. In the 90s his role here would have been played by the likes of Schwarzenegger, Stallone or Bruce Willis. And Will Sasso (The Three Stooges, etc) has a strong presence as Brett, Ventor’s humourless number one henchman. Watts is largely wasted here though.

Boss Level is much more fun than I expected!

★★★☆

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