Remember when the 1960s zombies used to stagger around, real slow-like? And 2000’s “28 Days” gave us 100-yard-dash zombies—that was very scary. When an idea makes money in Hollywood, every last permutation and combination of that new genre gets mined for more ducats.
Why Grillo?Frank Grillo’s fun. What’s Grillo got? Amazing pompadour’d hair. If ever there was an actor who could make that ubiquitous male actor statement about a given role: “I’ve got the hair for it”—it’s him. He’s also got a Wolverine-type ripped torso, a commanding screen presence, and he’s action-hero quippy, with a New York-accented, Italian flair. He’s best known for playing the Marvel villain Brock Rumlow.
“Boss Level” is similar to “The Map of Tiny Perfect Things” in that Roy Pulver (Grillo) doesn’t have the buildup to the time loop in “Groundhog Day”; he’s already waking up with his repeating day’s choreographed moves already in full swing.
But whereas the male lead in “The Map of ...” keeps waking up just as his mom is pulling away in a car, former Delta Force operative (what else?) Roy’s first move after opening his eyes in bed is ducking a machete whack to the head delivered by an assassin.
While dispatching said assassin using a variety of hand-to-hand options, one of which includes the scalding-coffee-to-the-face splash, a helicopter pulls up outside Roy’s window, the door gunner of which opens up on him with a 50-caliber lead shower. The gunner looks familiar. No, it can’t be! It is. It’s none other than Super Bowl LV winner, Buccaneer wide receiver Rob Gronkowski being an actor. Awesome.
And then a motley crew of assassins chase Roy around all day, two of whom are an unlikely pair of hulking black men speaking German. They look familiar … No! It can’t be! It is. They are UFC cage-fighting legends Quinton “Rampage” Jackson and Rashad Evans being actors. Awesome.
Roy meets his Maker many different ways; there’s not a lot of margin for error in his day. If his timing is off by a split second, he gets whacked.
How’d Roy Get Here Anyway?Without spoiling it, let’s just say that Roy’s being used as lab rat in a scientific experiment run by his ex-wife, Dr. Jemma Wells (Naomi Watts), all of which starts to come to light when Roy runs into his estranged son Joe (played by Grillo’s real-life young son Rio) competing in a 1980s-style arcade game tournament.
His wife is working on a top-secret military project, and her boss, Col. Clive Ventor (Mel Gibson), decapitates the relentless, pesky Roy a few times himself. This would be where “Boss Level” marries up with military-tinged time-loop movies “Source Code” and “Edge of Tomorrow.”
What You GetThe thing that’s fun about time-loop movies is that they’re metaphors for human reincarnation, with each repeating day standing in as an accelerated version of a lifetime. And we enjoy seeing the characters work toward a specific goal by using the practice-makes-perfect opportunity of day do-overs. Roy’s do-overs are seriously painful. But funny, too.
The thing that time-loop movies get wrong, when compared to actual writings by various sages on the topic of reincarnation, is that the characters always remember what they learned the previous day. According to reincarnation literature, however, when humans reincarnate, our memories are always erased—very few people can remember past lives.
And the human quest would appear to always be about spiritual enlightenment. Roy’s time-loop quest is that he wants to get his son and wife back. But the ultimate human quest throughout repeating incarnations is to jettison all karma and ascend to a heavenly paradise, and finally get some peace and quiet.
Which is where the phrase “If not now, when?” comes from, because we might not remember what earthly existence is meant for the next incarnation. It might take us a thousand lifetimes to figure out that human life is not for making money and buying stuff, but about exiting the reincarnation cycle with alacrity. And because our memories are automatically erased each time, another enlightenment quote says: “A man who seeks enlightenment should seek it like a man whose hair is on fire seeks a pond.” Because it could take forever before we figure it out again.