The Direct to Video Connoisseur

I'm a huge fan of action, horror, sci-fi, and comedy, especially of the Direct to Video variety. In this blog I review some of my favorites and not so favorites, and encourage people to comment and add to the discussion. For announcements and updates, don't forget to Follow us on Twitter and Like our Facebook page. If you're the director, producer, distributor, etc. of a low-budget feature length film and you'd like to send me a copy to review, you can contact me at dtvconnoisseur[at] I'd love to check out what you got. And check out my book, Chad in Accounting, over on Amazon.

Saturday, May 29, 2021

Boss Level (2021)

A few weeks ago I had Brett and Ty from Comeuppance on the podcast to discuss the great Robert Ginty, and on that episode Brett mentioned seeing this, and said it wasn't a bad deal. Since I thought I'd never done any Frank Grillo on the site before, and because it's Memorial Day weekend, I figured why not fire up the Grillo and make it happen? It looks like there are over 100 critic reviews of this on IMDb, so there's a good chance a friend of the site has done this too, but I may have missed it in my initial scan.

Boss Level has Frank Grillo as a former special forces soldier who's currently in a time loop where he's forced to relive the same day over and over. At the same time, a group of assassins are out to get him every time he wakes up. Why is this happening? How can Grillo get out of it? The answer may be in his ex's (Naomi Watts) science project, which she's working on for a boss who's not only evil, but also played by a raging anti-Semite and racist. So Grillo has to keep living the same day, gathering clues along the way, hoping to finally solve the puzzle and break out of this horrible Groundhog's Day scenario. It's like a real life video game--except in a movie, which isn't real life...


This is really good for about the first hour or so. It has all the elements we want out of a modern actioner: great fights, great car chases, and a great hero in the lead. And then at around that hour mark, our hero seems to have figured it out and wins, only to discover he hasn't, and another 30 minutes is tacked onto it. It's a fascinating trend I've been seeing in a lot of new action movies, what I call the "enough for a 43-minute syndicated TV show" effect. This could have been a great episode of Time Trax or Cobra, or even Arrow or The Flash, but the need to push it to 90 minutes is where we lose it. I can't explain too much of what happens without giving it away, but essentially, if you're following the slider bar when you're watching, at around 55 minutes or so, the film seems to hit a natural conclusion, only to be told it doesn't. By the same token, issues aside, when we're talking about big action that's not tied to any billion-dollar franchise, this is a good start, and I feel like it can still be a fun way to kill 90 minutes.

As I mentioned above, I thought this was our first Frank Grillo film on the site, but it turns out that's not the case, he was also in the Bruce Willis film Lay the Favorite. Either way, this definitely won't be our last. He's fantastic here in the lead, between the action and his natural charisma. According to IMDb, he was born in 1965, so this puts him right around the Gary Daniels/Mark Dacascos age for an action star; also, he has a ton of other stuff we could do, so we can make up for the lost time of us having left him out before. This film has some other big names in it, like Naomi Watts, and I think the true test of whether or not someone has "It", is whether or not they still have the presence onscreen to carry every scene they're in no matter who they're acting opposite, and Grillo definitely has that. Now that the summer is here, I think we'll be firing up the Grillo a lot more.


Among the other characters, I really liked Selina Lo as Guan Yin. Every time she killed someone, she said "I am Guan Yin, and Guan Yin has done this." The problem I think is that we had a bunch of other characters like hers that weren't anywhere near as developed, so we were left with a lot of starts that weren't finished. I don't know how you fix that when you only have 90 minutes, but maybe what it is is you shrink the pool of assassins--or what if, from a sci-fi angle, they're all Guan Yins? They just clone hundreds of her. I guess then you'd run into budgetary concerns if Grillo has to fight two or more at once. Either way, for one of the few characters that were fully developed, I think it was a good decision to spotlight Lo's, because she did really well with it.

One thing this movie does, whether intentionally or not, is it delves into the macabre element of video games where you have multiple lives. Dying a violent death is not fun, but Grillo's character experiences it 200 times or so. Talk about PTSD, how do you recover from that? The idea I guess is that Grillo's character is so mentally tough that he can handle it, but we never think when we're playing, say, Ninja Gaiden, what it would be like if the character actually experienced every death on the way to winning the game. It's a huge departure too from the standard action movie, where the hero at worst gets a flesh wound on the shoulder or leg, and ultimately takes down all the baddies and survives. Imagine if every video game adaptation did what this movie does? It would fun be to watch a Ninja Gaiden live action film where Ryu dies and comes back to life.


Finally, anyone who's been rockin' with the DTVC for sometime knows that I'm from New England, which means I'm a huge fan of the team everyone loves to hate, the Patriots. Seeing Gronk in this was perfect as a Pats fanboy, even if he left the Patriots to join the Buccaneers and won a Super Bowl with them this past season. It wasn't Gronk's fault, anymore than it was Brady's, that Belichick drove him out of town. What hurts more as a Pats fan is that they didn't win more here. Look at everything the Pats spent for the 2021 season. Couldn't they have spent a little of that in 2019 to get Brady over the hump so they at least win that last game of the year against Miami and secure the first round bye? Once they got that bye they could have cruised to another Super Bowl, and maybe Brady doesn't leave in 2020. Sorry, I know people who root for teams that haven't ever won don't want to hear me complain that the Pats didn't get a seventh.

And with that, it's time to wrap this up. Beyond the tacked on last 30 minutes, this movie isn't horrible. If anything, it's a great showcase for what Frank Grillo can do, and I'm excited to fire up the Grillo more in the future. As of this writing, you can stream this on Hulu, which I think isn't a bad deal. Full disclaimer though: as I mentioned above, the villain is played by a real life raging anti-Semite and racist. The fact that I'm reviewing this and to some extent recommending it is in no way an endorsement of him. In my mind the movie works in spite of him, not because of him.

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