Review: Boss Level (2021)

Free Guy for free

Boss Level

Available on Amazon Prime

There have been dozens, if not hundreds of movies based on video games. Assassin’s Creed (2016), every movie directed by Uwe Boll, the entire Resident Evil franchise – there’s probably even a Tetris movie out there somewhere. But you have to look to the likes of Tron (1982), Jumani: Welcome to the Jungle (2017) or less obviously The Edge of Tomorrow (2014) to find movies that play with video game logic and tropes, rather than simply try to reproduce whatever narrative and gameplay an existing game has.

Is it coincidence therefore that we now have two movies out at the same time that do just that? In cinemas right now, there’s Free Guy (2021), in which Ryan Reynolds discovers he’s merely a character in a video game, not the living, breathing human being he thought he was.

(Hopefully, I’ll be seeing and reviewing that for you beautiful bunch of TMINE readers next week).

Free Guy is big stars, big budget and has a cinema release.

But, on Amazon Prime, we have the far cheaper Boss Level in which Frank Grillo (Captain America: Winter Soldier) enters his own personal video game Groundhog Day. He dies hundreds of times in often quite unpleasant ways without even knowing why a league of cartoonish assassins is out to murder him. Could it be something to do with his ex-girlfriend (Naomi Watts)’s hush hush science project, run by no less a ham than Mel Gibson?

What are the chances of that?

Coincidence

It would be easy to think Boss Level is a cheap knock-off of Ryan Reynolds’ latest, released just in time to capitalise on Free Guy‘s release. But oddly enough, writer/director Joe Carnahan has been floating the idea of the movie (complete with Grillo as the leading man) for the past decade. It seems the time is just right for us to be studying gameplay.

In fact, Boss Level is very much a sly tribute to video games, particularly those popular in the 80s and 90s, rather than a demolition. It’s a frequently funny affair in which Grillo is at first bemused by his real-life game, learning the exact moves he needs to execute each day in order to avoid being hacked, shot, perforated, exploded, decapitated, impaled by the various improbable people out to kill him. He then starts to lose hope that there’s a way out for him. It’s only by – oh give me strength – learning how to be a good dad that he eventually learns the eventual cheat codes that will let him end the game.

There’s not a huge amount of depth to the movie, as you might expect. Grillo is largely defined as a soldier with too little time to pay attention to either Watts or his tweenie son – but who now has all the time in the world to do so. Everyone else serves a plot function, which is perhaps one of the truest aspects of this tribute to video games.

Even the big names in the movie – Michelle Yeoh, Naomi Watts and Mel Gibson – are largely there to deliver a few lines, collect a pay cheque or two and help Grillo move on to the next level (or be defeated).

Playing for fun

I’m not sure that really matters though. The movie is there for fun. You’re there to watch Grillo die horribly in odd ways and murder other people in equally odd ways; it’s not because you want to watch him cuddle his son and come to terms with the dilemma of squaring fatherhood and masculinity in modern day American society. Nevertheless, when you think how good Jumanji was at giving depth to at least its core cast, this feels like it could have tried harder to do more than simply have Grillo bond with his son over Streetfighter II.

Similarly, Carnahan’s direction is the sort of style you’d expect of someone responsible for The A-Team (2010), rather than a true auteur of action cinema. There are moments of real comedy and the occasional action scene that excites, but there’s too much CGI, the fight scene choreography is a little too wooden and there’s no really memorable scene, other than when someone explodes.

Grillo is, at least, decently craggy and looks the part. Watts and Yeoh are phoning in thankless roles that they could do in their sleep, while Gibson clearly thinks the whole thing is daft, particularly given the cod-Shakespearean dialogue that even the film can’t believe he has to say.

Boss Level is a fine piece of B-movie work that will probably work nicely for it’s intended target audience: gamers wanting to watch a piece of fun of a Friday night. For everyone else, it’s a good way to pass the time but nothing that will stick in the memory beyond Saturday morning.

Rating

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Author

  • Natalia Romanova

    TMINE's publisher and Official Movie Reviewer in Residence. I've written for numerous magazines, including Death Ray and Filmstar, and I've been a contributor to TMINE since I was at university and first discovered I really wanted to write about movies, oh so many years ago. Sob.

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