Normally, when one browses a streaming service and comes upon an “original” movie of that platform — an “Amazon Original” or “Netflix Original” for instance — one can expect something artsy with unknown actors and a relatively uninteresting plot.
Hulu’s new original movie out this past month, “Boss Level,” breaks this dynamic. It features a star-studded cast, and its purpose is entertainment, pure and simple. Unlike other movies in the genre, it also rises above the usual juvenile screenplays, awful acting, and cheap cameos from geriatric action stars.
Taking its cue from movies like “Groundhog Day” and “Edge of Tomorrow,” the movie is about Roy Pulver, played by Frank Grillo, a former member of the special forces, who finds himself continually reliving the same day with no hope of escape. Each day he wakes up to find a host of assassins attempting to kill him, leaving him little time to figure out what’s happening.
After so many days of this, he learns what to anticipate, vanquishes his foes, and gives himself enough time to learn how he is in a time-loop, who’s trying to have him killed, and how to fix this situation.
Although the movie has the feel of the video game — and, based on the movie’s title and the director’s remarks, this is clearly intentional — there is still enough humanity in the story to keep the audience emotionally invested in the characters. As he figures out his situation, Roy is forced to reevaluate his relationships with his ex-wife, played by the seemingly ageless Naomi Watts, and their preteen son, played by Rio Grillo. Not only does he learn how to fight off assassins and beat the bad guy, but he also learns to be a responsible father.
While some critics have complained about the unoriginality of “Boss Level,” it’s unlikely the average viewer will care much about this. Even if the movie’s director Joe Callahan takes ideas from other movies, he picks the best ones and puts them to good use. Furthermore, it’s clear he doesn’t rely on the novelty of time-loops and video game motifs but uses these to tell a fun story.
It also helps that the action scenes are well executed. They don’t feel cheap, and whatever CGI was used is barely noticeable. Similar to a Quentin Tarantino movie, the violence is somewhat gratuitous but nonetheless feels real and brings a certain satisfaction.
This doesn’t mean there aren’t flaws in the movie. In trying to keep up the humor and keep the plot simple, the movie sometimes lapses into campiness. Considering the audience is supposed to sympathize with Roy and cheer on his renewed love for his son and ex-wife, these occasional bouts of silliness tend to spoil this idea.
It also doesn’t help that the more serious parts of the script often fall flat. Even when the acting is competently performed, the lines are often cliche and clunky. For this reason, it’s probably for the better that these serious scenes are kept short and mainly serve to move the plot forward.
Finally — and this is a failure of many otherwise fine action movies, as the YouTube personality Critical Drinker observes — little is done with the antagonist, played by Mel Gibson. Scandals and rocky past aside, Gibson is still an incredibly charismatic actor with the kind of intensity to make every line he delivers compelling and meaningful, even when the material he’s provided is downright ridiculous.
Unfortunately, so much of this comes to nothing, as his character ultimately isn’t more than a stock villain bent on world domination. The viewer can tell that Gibson aimed to do more with his character, but never had the chance.
All these faults aside, “Boss Level” is a much-needed respite from the current dearth of blockbusters. Even as it recycles ideas from other movies, it still manages to feel fresh and different. More importantly, it’s a welcome reminder that it’s still possible to make movies that allow deprived audiences some escape and enjoyment.