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  Boss Level Aiming For The High Score
Year: 2021
Director: Joe Carnahan
Stars: Frank Grillo, Mel Gibson, Naomi Watts, Will Sasso, Annabelle Wallis, Sheaun McKinney, Selina Lo, Michelle Yeoh, Ken Jeong, Meadow Williams, Mathilde Ollivier, Rio Grillo, Armida Lopez, Buster Reeves, Eric Etebari, Quinton 'Rampage' Jackson, Rashad Evans
Genre: Action, Science FictionBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Roy Pulver (Frank Grillo) has a feeling he has been here before. That is because he has, almost a hundred and fifty times before, living exactly the same day or at least the beginning of it, for every time he awakens, there is a man with a machete standing over him who tries to plant the weapon in his skull. Roy does not know how to get out of this predicament, or why it is happening to him, but he does know that he will have to kill the machete man, avoid a helicopter shooting at him with a heavy-duty machine gun, the car with two armed assassins, and so on and so on - but eventually, someone’s going to kill him.

After Groundhog Day was released in 1993, there was more or less a gentlemen's agreement that its fantastic premise - the protagonist lives the same day over and over - would not be used in other movies. Around twenty-five years later, that agreement was not worth anything and the floodgates opened with a bunch of copycat efforts - Edge of Tomorrow, Happy Death Day, Palm Springs and others - appeared across the media, some making better use of the idea than others. Boss Level was one of those, and as acknowledged in the title emphasised the computer gaming angle to this: die in the game, and you get another life.

Or you do until your lives run out, which some of these stories considered and others did not: here was one that did not appear to do so until very late in the day. It was directed by Joe Carnahan, who took an existing screenplay by brothers Chris Borey and Eddie Borey and rewrote it to beef up the emotional element he felt it needed to connect with audiences. Whether it would have or not was a moot point, because eventually the studio decided not to release it, and it escaped onto a streaming service in North America two years later, only securing theatrical releases in select countries (admittedly, there were also pandemic motives for this).

Nevertheless, it must have been disappointing, and it seems the lack of faith was down to the stars, Grillo regarded as a straight to video kind of guy rather than a big screen leading man, and the choice of villain with Mel Gibson still proving a sticking point with some audiences as past complaints about him resurfaced. Indeed, Gibson's biggest fans by that time seemed to be middle aged action and thriller directors happy to cast him in items like this, and to be fair, if you needed to be fair, he was very effective here, though blatantly given a centrepiece speech to bulk up his role more, since he did not have a whole lot to do otherwise. He was also a little lost amid the more colourful bad guys and girls.

Mind you, Gibson had more to do that Michelle Yeoh, who no matter that she was one of the biggest stars in the picture, had barely three scenes in this, and only one of those of any significance, something she could have done in her sleep by this stage. But this was an ensemble supporting Grillo, a mixture of crazed assassins and quirky neutral characters: love interest Naomi Watts was pretty vanilla here, yes, she was the one who we discover kicked off the science fiction explanation for Roy's repetitive existence, but she was really present simply to be rescued. Grillo recruited his own son to play Roy's son, living out that day reconnecting with the boy, and this was the main addition Carnahan made to the plot which rather slows things down if you were being honest. Also, there was a long section where we flashed back to see why all this was going on that felt like too much exposition: we all had the measure of this narrative, we did not need it overexplained. But it was difficult to mess it up too badly, and if it was finally on the conventional side, Grillo was good value and there was some fun to be had. Music by Clinton Shorter.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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