Comic-book carnage reigns in Joe Carnahan’s ‘Boss Level’, a kinetic, violent time-travel action fantasy

His little friend: Frank Grillo stars in the time-travel action fantasy ‘Boss Level’.

BOSS LEVEL *** (101 minutes) MA
Pity poor Roy Pulver (Frank Grillo) who wakes up each morning with somebody trying to slice off his head.

Sounds unpleasant enough, but for Pulver, a former Special Forces soldier, what is especially annoying is that it’s always the same day.

Yep, folks, it’s yet another film to riff on Groundhog Day, hot on the heels of the current hit Australian rom-com Long Story Short.

And that’d be an issue if the lark wasn’t so much fun, with lots of high-octane action being delivered with just the right comic-book tone and degree of levity to keep the film from taking its time-tripping concept, or its huge body count, too seriously.

It’s probably the slickest and slightest film from director Joe Carnahan, whose diverse CV includes writing and directing Narc (a tough, underrated crime drama), The A Team, Smokin’ Aces and The Grey; he also penned Bad Boys for Life and Death Wish.

And for the most part it’s a well-oiled, kill-happy time killer.

Pulver is caught in a space/time anomaly endlessly reliving a rather bothersome day where he is being hunted by an array of assassins.

Repetition has taught him to avoid a bullet here, a sword there, a machine gunning through his apartment window, a sports car with gun-happy killer femmes, even a determined martial arts assassin with a taste for beheading her targets.

So, after scores of deaths, he eventually figures out how to survive long enough to get some inkling as to why he is being subjected to this Hell. In particular he wants to uncover what his ex-wife (Naomi Watts) has to do with it all and how best to get cheesy villain Colonel Clive Ventor (Mel Gibson) off his case.

The fireballs, gunfights and close-in clashes are all choreographed with precision and pizazz, with the super-fit Grillo (also a producer on the film) tumbling through the mayhem with a cheeky insouciance and a sense of comic timing that is as good as his aim.

The only downer with Boss Level is that some of the visual effects used to enhance the car chase sequences are so dodgy they look as though they were done on a laptop with pirated software.

The horrid 2000 remake of H.B. Halicki’s classic car-chase epic Gone in 60 Seconds taught the world that nothing beats staging car sequences practically. Christopher Nolan affirmed that with the brilliant vehicular ballet he staged for the otherwise incomprehensible Tenet.

Did the bottom suddenly fall out of the budget for Boss Level? Or did Carnahan really think this stuff looked OK?

Whatever the case, it’s the one major flub in an otherwise enjoyable collision of Groundhog Day and the type of giddy action film Mel Gibson once specialised in.