‘Boss Level’ violent action time loop; HBO cable TV preview



The first question one may have about “Boss Level,” not knowing the videogame lexicon, is the meaning of the title and its relevance to the wild action that unfolds in a continuous cycle of repetitive battles.

The phrase “boss level” is the highest level of difficulty in a fighting videogame, the ultimate challenge for any gamer. I would have had no idea of this unless director Joe Carnahan, who knows plenty about delivering violent action, explained the meaning.

If you’ve seen Carnahan’s explosive “Smokin’ Aces,” where bounty hunters, thugs-for-hire, deadly vixens and double-crossing mobsters are determined to fulfill a contract hit on a mob informant, you may have a good idea of what’s in store for the target in “Boss Level.”

Mix in the formula of “Groundhog Day” with a heavy dose of Carnahan’s most outrageous action sequences, and the result is what ex-soldier Roy Pulver (Frank Grillo) experiences every day in his time-loop nightmare.

Living in a spacious loft, Roy wakes up each morning dodging a machete-wielding assassin and the hail of bullets from a machine-gunner hovering outside his building in a helicopter. Sometimes an escape requires jumping out of his multi-story building.

Having no fear of death, Roy survives for another day, and the only thing that seems to matter is whether he can ever live past 12:47 p.m. on any given day. That appears to be the magic threshold to get to the boss level.

Depending on how Roy reacts to daily attacks, he finds refuge in an underground bar run by the wisecracking Jake (Ken Jeong), where he proceeds to get hammered while listening to an annoying security expert that he refers to as “Dave the pantload.”

As a former Delta Force operative, Roy may have been battle-hardened by his service, but it’s nothing like enduring daily slaughter by assassins in different ways, such as being shot, blown up, or decapitated. He takes it all in stride with self-deprecating, profane humor.

Unraveling the mystery of the time loop leads to the discovery of a connection to his ex-wife, Dr. Jemma Wells (Naomi Watts), a brilliant scientist employed by Colonel Clive Ventor (Mel Gibson).

As an unwitting part of Ventor’s plan to use a powerful machine called the Osiris Spindle, Roy is targeted by Ventor’s security chief (Will Sasso) with an army of killers that include a redneck with a harpoon, an Irish little person fond of explosives and the German twins.

The best and most memorable of all assassins is Guan Yin (Selina Lo), a sword-wielding ninja with the running gag of uttering the catchphrase “I am Guan Yin, and Guan Yin has done this” every time after beheading Roy.

While the supporting players are good, including Michelle Yeoh’s Chinese champion sword-fighter who trains Roy to defeat Guan Yin, it’s Frank Grillo’s tough guy, with his sarcasm and weary cynicism, who carries the day.

“Boss Level” may be one of the best entertainments to reflect our pandemic times. With lockdowns and avenues of fun mostly closed, it often feels like we are trapped in a terrible time loop of repeating the same daily routines. At least “Boss Level” offers a cool diversion.


HBO’s two-hour documentary film “Tina,” which will also be available to stream on HBO Max, is a revealing and intimate look at the life and career of musical icon Tina Turner, charting her improbable rise to early fame, along with her personal and professional struggles.

Insightful interviews with Tina herself were conducted in her hometown of Zurich, Switzerland (she became a Swiss citizen in 2013), and with those closest to her. Also featured is a wealth of never-before-seen archival footage.

“Tina” draws to an emotional conclusion with Tina Turner taking a bow at the opening night of the Broadway musical about her life, a fitting swan song for a talented artist who courageously spoke truth about domestic abuse at the hands of Ike Turner.

After a long absence from an HBO production, Kate Winslet stars in the limited series “Mare of Easttown” as Mare Sheehan, a small-town Pennsylvania detective who investigates a local murder as life crumbles around her.

That “Mare of Easttown” explores the dark side of a close community may explain why Winslet, during the winter press tour, said that being Mare Sheehan was “like one of the biggest challenges I think I’ve ever been slapped with. And she’s nothing like me.”

Jean Smart also stars as Helen, Mare’s mother; Julianne Nicholson as Lori Ross, Mare’s best friend since childhood; and Evan Peters as the county detective called in to assist with Mare’s investigation.

In the new drama series “The Nevers,” Victorian London is rocked by a supernatural event which gives certain people – mostly women – abnormal abilities, all of whom belong to a new underclass in grave danger.

It falls to mysterious, quick-fisted widow Amalia True (Laura Donnelly) and young inventor Penance Adair (Ann Skelly) to protect and shelter the gifted people from brutal forces determined to annihilate their kind.

Tim Riley writes film and television reviews for Lake County News.