It arrived a couple of weeks ago at Amazon Prim Video without making much noise, but it has quickly climbed to the highest positions of the newly released top of the most viewed on the platform. The reasons are clear: as seemingly mindless as it is very sharp and intelligent at heart, ‘Boss Level’ is pure cult cinema. Funny, ironic, modest, full of surprises and resistant to revision.
It shouldn’t surprise us coming from Joe Carnahan, a director devoted to action cinema, but who has always approached it in an intelligent and personal way, although some of his films are commissions like his excellent and unexpected version of ‘The A-Team’-. Among his most celebrated films are productions as disparate from each other as the claustrophobic and wonderful ‘White Hell’ or the funny (and matching in tone and rhythm with ‘Boss Level’) ‘Unexpected turn’.
In ‘Boss Level’ he continues to demonstrate why his films will not be millionaire blockbusters, but expected like water in May by devotees of well-choreographed, shot and edited action cinema, with one-piece characters and powerful concepts. In this case, Carnahan starts from a foreign script, entitled ‘Continue’ and written by Chris and Edie Borey (authors of the very insane ‘Open Grave’), which he completely rewritten, but respecting his concept: a ‘Groundhog Day’ focused on action and multiplying the nods to the mechanics of video games which had (not so explicitly) ‘At the edge of the morning’.
Specifically, we will meet Roy Pulver (Frank Grillo), a veteran of the Special Forces who is trapped in a loop that makes him repeat over and over again the same day, in which he is chased by a group of quirky assassins. Every time they find him they kill him, and start over, but he suspects that the secret of this crazy loop is in the experiments that his wife (Naomi Watts) is driving under the command of a mysterious military businessman (Mel Gibson).
Die over and over again
The best of the case is that Carnahan, very much in his self-conscious line, who uses action cinema to reflect on the possibilities of action cinema itself, takes for granted that the viewer knows very well the narrative resources of the films of loops in time and decide not to waste time explaining the rules to us. From the first moment, an ironic Cricket (why isn’t this guy already a star? … he would be a perfect Punisher!) Tells us that he is fed up with so much loop.
Carnahan immediately connects the structure of ‘Boss Level’ with the mechanics of video games. He does it explicitly with the title itself, the Street Fighter character selection screen that opens the film, a video game tournament in the middle of the plot … but also implicitly, not only because when the protagonist is killed he returns to start, but also in his way of carrying out a learning that allows him to advance in his adventure, based on an unnatural method of trial and error and in the search for clues and data in the corners left by the spaces “without death”.
All without the slightest hint of existentialism about what it means to die over and over again, something most films after ‘Trapped in Time’ have inherited from Harold Ramis’ foundational comedy. Here death in loop is a mechanics, as in video games, a narrative resource that must be taken advantage of, and that Carnahan takes to the limit putting the accent beyond the construction of characters or drama, making the exaggerated action and excellently well planned one more ingredient, almost a plot piece in the style of oriental genre cinema.
In fact, the film seems to send the viewer an honest and, in a sense, emotional message: Frank Grillo’s character largely remembers to the solid, one-dimensional heroes of a classic action movie from the eighties and nineties, and the eternal loop The one it is in is a tribute to why we like genre cinema, and by extension, action video games. The repetition, over and over again, of the same codes assumed by all, absurd and meaningless, but to which we are hooked. Like this great little piece of perfect action in loop.
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