'Boss Level' is just an ultra-violent 'Groundhog Day' that's unexpectedly fun
At first, "Boss Level" seems as familiar and derivative as it is unnecessary -- basically just an insanely-violent version of "Groundhog Day," with Frank Grillo caught in a time loop and trying to fight his way out of it. Stick with it, though, and the Hulu movie sort of grows on you, mindless fun that finds the comic absurdities in its protagonist's highly repetitive plight.
The supporting cast, frankly, feels like something of a distraction. The controversial Mel Gibson plays the main bad guy, a pretty stock character, while Naomi Watts parachutes in as the hero's ex, a scientist who has placed him in the time loop, hoping his special-forces skills will help him find a way to navigate through the dense web of trained assassins.
As directed and co-written by Joe Carnahan (who worked with Grillo on "The Grey"), what makes "Boss Level" more than tolerable is the way Grillo's Roy Pulver learns things the hard way, dying in one version of events before coming back and figuring out a way to survive the next encounter.
As Roy puts it in the heavy narration, he's stuck "in the death loop of a never-ending day," and "Yesterday was months ago." If you recall Bill Murray memorizing a French poem to impress someone -- or more recently, anything about "Palm Springs," giving Hulu a time-loop double feature -- imagine applying that discipline to battling a ridiculously skilled sword-wielding attacker.
Of course, that usually just means dying again (and again), but in this construction, you can't make an omelet without breaking several dozen eggs.
"Boss Level" (a sly reference to the unavoidable video-game comparisons of this story) is the kind of movie that seemingly benefits from the strange state of theatrical releases. Lacking the pyrotechnics or star power to merit a trip to the theaters, it's a more-than-adequate distraction situated on a platform like Hulu. Perhaps foremost the movie offers a nice showcase for Grillo (who also produced it), after sparring with Captain America in the movies and starring in the series "Kingdom." The supporting players notwithstanding -- among them Michelle Yeoh, who basically just drops by -- this is his show, and he makes the most of it. Not that something like "Boss Level" breaks any ground, or -- with apologies to the premise -- is worth watching over and over. But for those craving an action distraction, it's a reasonably entertaining way to kill time.