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‘Boss Level’: Time to wake up to Frank Grillo’s star power

The charismatic supporting player takes center stage in Hulu’s entertaining time loop thriller.

Frank Grillo plays a former special agent under attack by assassins including Guan Yin (Selina Lo) in “Boss Level.”
Hulu

It feels as if we’re stuck in a time loop watching Time Loop Movies and Time Loop Series, with variations on “Groundhog Day” in the campy-fun horror film “Happy Death Day” and its sequel, the rom-com “Palm Springs” and the comedy/drama “Russian Doll,” and it feels as if we’re stuck in a time loop watching Time Loop Movies and Time Loop Series, with variations on “Groundhog Day” in ...

Sorry. Got tangled up in a Time Loop Review cycle.

The latest entry is Hulu’s hardcore sci-fi action thriller “Boss Level,” which has a great one-two punch in the badass director Joe Carnahan (“Narc,” “Smokin’ Aces”) and the recently ubiquitous Frank Grillo (“Billions,” “No Man’s Land,” “Body Brokers”), who did great work in a supporting role in Carnahan’s man v. wolves B-movie classic “The Grey” and takes center stage here in a role that makes great use of his screen-commanding physical prowess and his streetwise, self-deprecating sense of humor.

“Boss Level” takes the “Palm Springs” route in that, like Andy Samberg’s Nyles, Grillo’s Roy Pulver is already good and well mired in a never-ending time loop at the start of the film — but whereas Nyles kept waking up on the day of a wedding, Roy greets the day by rolling out of bed (which he’s sharing with a gorgeous and mysterious woman) and getting attacked by a menacing assassin in his apartment, followed by a gunman in a helicopter hovering just outside — and then a series of assassins of various shapes, sizes and gender who keep trying to take him out until somebody succeeds. (Fun fact: Footballer Rob Gronkowski plays the gunman in the helicopter.) Even though Roy is a former special agent with a very particular set of skills, he has accepted that no matter what he does, he WILL be killed at precisely 12:47 p.m. every day — and then he’ll wake up in bed and have to do it all over again.

What a waking nightmare.

Director Carnahan provides his usual stylish, saturated-colors, quick-cut visuals as we see Roy taking it this way and that, most notably at the hands of the sword-wielding assassin Guan Yin (Selina Lo), who says the same thing every time she decapitates Roy: “I am Guan Yin, and Guan Yin has done this.” (One imagines Tarantino cackling with appreciative envy over Guan Yin and her catchphrase.) Carnahan and his co-writers Chris Borey and Eddie Borey also infuse the script with dark humor, e.g., Roy telling us in voice-over, “I can run for a while and I can hide for a while, but the day always ends bad in a hail of bullets. So I figure, if I’m going to get f---ed up, I should probably get f---ed up,” at which point Roy walks in to the Noodles Café, where Ken Jeong’s Jake is behind the bar, always happy to see Roy and always surprised to see him looking like hell.

But WHY do so many people want Roy dead, and HOW did he get caught in this time loop? The clues begin to add up after Roy happens to see his estranged young son Joe (played by Grillo’s real-life son Rio), who’s on his way to a 1980s arcade game tournament, and oh, so THAT’S why “Boss Level” has those ’80s video game graphics and even some of the look and pacing of old-timey action games. Without giving too much away, let’s just say Roy is a pawn of some sort of sci-fi experiment involving his ex-wife, Dr. Jemma Wells (Naomi Watts), who is working on a high-level, top-secret techno-project under the paranoid watch of her supervisor, the wild-eyed Col. Clive Ventor (Mel Gibson, and call it typecasting if you must), and suddenly we’re in Time Loop Movie territory similar to “Edge of Tomorrow” and “Source Code.”

A bloodthirsty security chief (Will Sasso, left) works for Col. Clive Ventor (Mel Gibson).
Hulu

As is always the case with these types of films, even the obligatory exposition scenes still leave much unexplained, and either you go with it or you don’t. Watts is underused and Gibson isn’t as maniacally entertaining as you’d expect him to be, but we get fine work from supporting players Jeong as the aforementioned barkeep, Michelle Yeoh (as a martial arts legend who teaches Roy the art of sword combat) and Will Sasso as Col. Ventor’s bloodthirsty security chief. Mostly, though, this is Grillo’s film to carry, and he pulls it off with a combination of brute force and light charm.