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Film / Boss Level

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Running out of time. And lives.
Boss Level is a 2021 action sci-fi film directed by Joe Carnahan. It stars Frank Grillo as an ex-soldier who is caught in a "Groundhog Day" Loop in which assassins are trying to kill him for unknown reasons from the very moment he wakes up each morning. Mel Gibson and Naomi Watts co-star.


  • Absurdly Sharp Blade: Discussed with Guan Yin's sword, as it allows her to perform Clean Cuts and easily behead Roy in a single stroke. This is explicitly related to the blade, rather than the skill of the wielder, since even Ventor manages to behead Roy with it.
  • Always Know a Pilot: Played With. Each morning, a helicopter shows up at Roy's apartment and opens fire through the windows. Roy eventually takes advantage of it when he needs to get to Dynow Labs post-haste, taking the pilot hostage.
  • And This Is for...: After successfully luring "Pam" into a trap for the first time, and using Hitler's personal handgun to kill her, Roy delivers the following one-liner:
    That's for the Jews!
  • Arbitrary Gun Power: In one loop, Roy puts eight rounds from a 9mm handgun into Ventor's torso, without killing him. In fact, he does so to torture information out of him. Throughout the film, Roy himself is killed with guns of smaller caliber and/or with far less 9mm rounds.
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  • Arrogant Kung-Fu Guy: Guan Yin. Unlike most typical cases, she has every reason to be boastful and arrogant. Roy is absolutely obliterated by her no matter what or how many times he tries, and still has a hard time to deal with her even after learning swordplay himself and her combat moves by repeating their duel (implying he still failed a few times despite training and knowing what she will do).
  • Awesome, but Impractical:
    • Invoked and then defied. Roy thinks this about Guan Yin fencing. After all, who brings a sword to a gun fight? She then proceeds to kill him without much effort time and again, in progressively more humiliating fashion, while he can't even hit her once.
    • Roy's eventual attempts at Guns Akimbo against Guan Yin turns out to be this, as he can't aim and even the sheer volume of fire isn't enough to score a single hit.
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  • Black and Nerdy: The security expert that annoys Roy in the bar.
  • Black Comedy: Due to the "Groundhog Day" Loop nature of the plot, not only is a lot of the humour drawn from Roy being killed in the most creative (and accidental) ways possible, but also from his general resignation to the endless looping and interactions with the unsuspecting world.
  • Bond One-Liner: A handful.
    • "I am Guan Yin, and Guan Yin has done this!"
    • "Nah, I think they deserved it"
    • "Hold still" after putting additional two bullets into "Pam".
    • "Never say die".
  • The Cameo: Footballer Rob Gronkowski and former UFC champions Quinton Jackson and Rashad Evans all have bit parts as assassins.
  • Carnival of Killers: The killers hunting Roy are a diverse bunch to say the least. They range from fairly normal with a few quirks (Pam's only odd trait is that she has Hitler's personal gun, and there's nothing unusual about Roy Number 2 aside from the fact he resembles Roy), to downright bizarre (Kaboom is a Mad Bomber with dwarfism, and Smiley is a hillbilly with rotten teeth who likes to harpoon his targets and drag them through the street behind his truck.)
  • Catchphrase: Guan Yin has a very cheesy one. On top of that, Roy had to hear it over 100 times, giving him a Get It Over With reaction.
    I am Guan Yin, and Guan Yin has done this!
  • Casting Gag:
    • Quinton Jackson and Rashad Evans play brothers in the film. Jackson and Evans are both former MMA fighters who fought each other for the UFC belt. Their bout was particularly acrimonious, so it's ironic for them to be cast as allies.
    • Mel Gibson is cast as the Big Bad who at one point sneeringly derides Democrats. Gibson is an infamous figure in Hollywood for his questionable behavior in his personal life and is also one of Hollywood's most outspoken conservatives.
  • Celebrity Paradox: At one point, Roy title-drops Donnybrook and its dragged-out fight scene. Frank Grillo, who plays Roy, played one of the leads in that movie, too.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • The gift Jemma send to Roy, a book about Osiris and Isis. Roy would come to realize that him reviving in the next loop after dying reflects how Osiris became the God of the Underworld and later on, learns that's the namesake of the machine (Osiris Spindle) which is causing the time loops and is capable of destroying the world.
    • Roy "borrows" Kaboom's explosives and remote trigger more than few times such as when he explodes the corpses of his assassins in a truck or leaving them in the trunk of a stolen car as armed guards come to investigate it.
    • The helicopter and its minigun. Roy ends up hijacking the helicopter to travel to Dynow in order to quickly save Jemma and uses the minigun to gun down the Carnival of Killers who tracked him there.
  • Chekhov's Gunman:
    • The dental hygienist, Alice, becomes a factor in the plot in the second act as she turns out to be working for Dynow and placed the tracker in Roy's teeth.
    • The security expert, Dave, in the bar. He explains certain types of trackers after Roy asked about them, including those hidden inside molars. It turns out that Roy has one inside his teeth.
    • Dai Feng, introduced in the first act as a famous kung fu film star, becomes Roy's fencing tutor in the last act.
    • Second Roy looking similar enough to Roy for them to be doubles for each other.
  • Combat Stilettos: Despite fighting with a sword, Guan Yin wears a pair of high-heeled boots. Downplayed, as they aren't literal stilettos, but would be still highly impractical, especially given her highly acrobatic fighting style.
  • Consummate Professional: "Pam" is very professional, especially when compared with the rest of the bunch sent after Roy. Notably, not only is she doing it as just a job, but has a Nothing Personal stance when Roy is about to kill her. She just calmly lets it slide as a consequence of being outplayed.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: Invoked by Roy as to who even comes up with something as twisted as Smiley. Smiley's weapon of choice is a surveying harpoon, which he shoots Roy with and then proceeds to drag him across the streets to his death. Roy repays in kind when he turns the table on his assassins.
  • Despair Event Horizon: After bonding with Joe over the course of several loops, Roy discovers that the kid is one of Dynow's targets, meaning that Joe had been killed just as many times as Roy had. Roy gives up for a while, allowing himself to be murdered in his bed for several loops before getting his Heroic Second Wind.
  • Didn't Think This Through: We are provided a Serial Escalation of Roy's truly Epic Fails in trying to storm Dynow Labs, each time forgetting some crucial, yet obvious element in his plan.
  • The Dragon: Brett, who is Ventor's head of security and right-hand thug. Roy always has to deal with him before addressing Ventor.
  • Dramatic Wind: Every time Guan Yin is about to drop her Catchphrase, there is wind blowing her hair that comes from nowhere. Including indoors.
  • Dungeon Bypass: During his last attempt after Roy finds out that Jemma is still alive for 14 minutes from when he first wakes in the morning, he jumps aboard the helicopter that shoots up his apartment every morning and forces the pilot to fly back to Dynow which lets him take the roof entrance instead of taking the long way by driving there and shooting his way inside.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: It takes over 250 attempts for Roy to save his family and stop Ventor's master plan.
  • Earth-Shattering Kaboom: Even if Roy manages to kill all the assassins, the Osiris Spindle will still blow up and unleash a massive shockwave of energy that destroys the entire planet later that day unless he figures out a way to prevent it.
  • Epic Fail: Even though Roy has memorized what happens early on in his day, he doesn't always remember every detail, and in later acts has to resort to Trial-and-Error Gameplay with the knowledge that when he dies, he can just wake up and try again. These incidents include:
    • Dropping out of a fourth story window, missing the truck of sand, and getting run over by it.
    • Mistiming the arrival of the bus and getting sent through its windshield with glass in his face.
    • Trying and utterly failing to ram a car through the wall of the Dynow compound.
    • Really, his entire run at getting inside Dynow lab, which takes him roughly 20 runs, and then spending the next 50 trying to get past Guan Yin. Even the successful duel we are shown is implied to be an n-th attempt, as he's clearly doing things from memory, rather than genuinely reacting to her moves.
  • Establishing Character Moment:
    • Roy has two: first, it's the In Medias Res situation, where he's dealing with the killers sent after him in an organised and detached fashion. Then it proceeds with a flashback of how he even got stuck in the loop and he's in turn presented as a not-too-bright bulb that's terrible at reading people and their motivations.
    • Ventor has one, doing a long monologue reminiscing on his time in Burma: how much he enjoys violence, to the point of fetishising it, and how deranged he is in general.
    • Guan Yin is an Arrogant Kung-Fu Guy that boasts about her kills. However, she really is as good as her boasts go.
  • Exact Words: Played for Laughs.
    "Pam": Are you going to kill me now?
    Roy: No Pam, I'm going to shoot you... (double-taps her in the heart area) That's for the Jews!
  • First-Person Smartass: Roy's running commentary dips into this frequently, especially in the beginning when he's over 100 attempts in and he's already bored with everything. What makes it far funnier than the usual use of this trope is the fact Roy is kind of an idiot, but he's still absolutely convinced he's this suave smartass he projects himself as.
  • Foreshadowing: The dental hygienist says she hates teeth, which makes more sense when you learn that she was just a plant to get a tracking device put into Roy's tooth.
  • Gatling Good: The second assassin whom Roy has to fight each day is a guy in a helicopter firing a gatling gun at him. He ultimately uses the gun himself in the final act to mow down all the assassins at the same time when they're about to report in to Ventor early that morning.
  • Gold Fish Poop Gang: The Carnival of Killers sent after Roy would normally be a total overkill. However, after the first 140 loops, Roy learns all their moves, tricks and techniques (well, except for Guan Yin), greatly reducing the actual threat they pose. Once he figures out he has a tracking device implanted in his tooth, he easily disposes of most of them in a single loop and then just as easily dodges them in the following loops.
  • "Groundhog Day" Loop: Roy is stuck reliving a day where everyone seems to be trying to kill him. He repeats the day when he dies, which happens every day. Even once he figures out how to survive or just dodge the assassins sent after him, an Earth-Shattering Kaboom still kills him and resets the loop.
  • Guns Akimbo: Roy has few instances of it. For a movie that runs almost entirely on Rule of Cool, they carry an Awesome, but Impractical outcome: he can't hit the broad side of a barn and either goes for dual wield when he's trying to have some fun (like when trying to kill the black twins) or when getting really desperate in his attempts to overcome Guan Yin.
  • Heroic BSoD: After seeing his son dying, Roy spends a few loops without even leaving his bed.
  • I Need a Freaking Drink: Whenever he survives long enough, Roy visits his favourite bar and proceeds to get drunk there, until the assassins on his tail inevitably track him down. It seemed to be his standard "plan of the day" routine prior to the start of the film.
  • Idiot Hero: Roy being a dumbass is probably his most definitive trait. It adds to the comedy of the situation - he's a competent killer and can deal with all the action bits, but piecing together the banally simple plot is way over his head. This even includes killing people first, asking questions never.
  • Important Haircut/Traumatic Haircut: In one of their duels, Roy manages to cut half of Guan Yin’s mane. For him, that's a sign that he has enough hang of their duel to finally beat her. For her, it's humiliating and makes her really pissed.
    (Roy waves the handful of her hair in front of Guan Yin with a sly smile)
    Guan Yin: Mother fucker!
  • In Medias Res: The film starts after Roy has already died over 100 times and has memorized most of what his day will look like. The film eventually uses flashbacks for scenes taking place beforehand.
  • Indy Ploy: Roy rarely sits down to think or plan ahead and for the most part, just goes with the flow. Unlike most typical cases, it's less about circumstances forcing him into such behaviour and more of him being a tool.
  • Interchangeable Asian Cultures: Ventor manages to confuse Guan Yin's jian sword with a katananote . That despite his office being entirely decorated with Chinese weaponry and even a few terracotta soldiers. When Guan Yin tries to correct him, he dismisses her and continues with his Evil Gloating instead.
  • Interplay of Sex and Violence: Roy's sword fight with Guan Yin is dripping with sexual aggression. He strokes her cheek as he toys with her and ultimately kills her by dipping her as if for a kiss before impaling her instead.
  • Ironic Nickname: Part of Roy's coping with his predicament is giving those to the killers sent after him: "Smiley" has rotten teeth, while the "German twins" are a pair of black dudes. He also assumes it must be the case with Guan Yin’s own alias, given Avalokiteśvara is a goddess of mercy.
  • It's Personal: Roy couldn't care any less for Ventor's plans. As far as he's concerned, Ventor's just the guy responsible for his ex-wife and their son being killed and then sending an army of assassins after him. And if getting out of the loop isn't possible, then personal revenge on Ventor is more than enough.
    Roy: One: I'm gonna fuck that guy up next time I see him.
  • Kicking Ass in All Her Finery: "Pam" is wearing an elegant outfit that could easily fit into an office environment.
  • Mad Bomber: Kaboom is a Demolitions Expert that likes to personally plant explosives on his targets and then detonate them.
  • Meaningful Name:
    • Roy Pulver really pulverizes people.
    • The evil Dynow Labs sounds like "Die Now." They make Pulver die repeatedly throughout the film.
    • The Osiris Spindle references the myth of Osiris, who is brought back to life by his wife just like Roy is.
  • Mutual Kill: "Roy #2" is introduced when bumping into Roy while they both are entering the Chinese restaurant. They both take a second glance, then pull the same gun model and in mirroring moves shoot each other dead.
  • Negated Moment of Awesome: A handful of the more crazy plans Roy had that didn't work, along with how easily various characters kill him.
    • Trying to simply ram the fence surrounding the Dynow Labs ends with Roy finding out it's made out of reinforced concrete blocks, while his car folds like an accordion.
    • Cut to the next attempt, where he sends the car flying over the fence, loading it first with Kaboom's explosives and trying to casually walk into the compound amid the resulting chaos, only to be just as casually gunned down by Brett two steps in.
    • For all his prowess, Roy is routinely stopped by a simple security guard stationed in an elevator - and when he finally figures out how to deal with him, it in turn alerts the whole building, in more and more comical fashion.
    • Roy trying to go Guns Akimbo on Guan Yin, only to be beheaded even faster than usual.
    • Downplayed when Roy misses on his first attempt to jump into the helicopter. Without breaking the stride or the music piece in the background, the scene just cuts to his second attempt, this time successful.
  • Nerds Are Virgins: Roy takes an instant dislike to the proprietor of Third Gen and sneeringly asks if he has any kids to justify his interest in games. When the man says he has none "by choice," Roy quips, "Whose choice?"
  • Never Bring a Knife to a Gun Fight: Discussed and defied. Roy reminds Guan Yin of that scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark, but even after he tries to shoot her with dual uzis, he still doesn't manage to hit her once before she kills him, forcing him to eventually take sword lessons to beat her.
  • The Nicknamer:
    • Since Roy never had a chance to learn the names of the killers sent after him, he instead provided them with a variety of nicknames, ranging from actual nicknames to just ironic names. "Pam" is confused when he "names" her in one of their confrontations.
    • Guan Yin herself escapes this trope... until you realise that she's using an alias anyway, thus rendering the fact she's introducing herself each and every time moot.
  • No Ending: When Roy saves his family and kills the villains, he realizes that the Osiris Spindle will eventually still destroy the world. Jemma tells Roy that he will need to go into the machine to reset his day one last time in order to break the time loop and stop the Osiris Spindle (if he fails in the next attempt, he dies for real). The movie ends right after Roy enters the machine. Nothing is explained how this actually stops the Osiris Spindle.
    • The Hulu cut of the film has a slightly extended ending: after entering the machine, Roy wakes up at the start of the loop again. His voiceover then implies that the "Groundhog Day" Loop has ended and that he has to do one final go without dying.
  • No Kill like Overkill: Ventor hires about a dozen assassins to kill one guy, including one in a helicopter with a minigun.
  • Non Sequitur, *Thud*: Brett's reaction to getting a sword jammed in the middle of his forehead is about a minute of stumbling and incoherent rambling before he falls over.
  • Not What It Looks Like: Roy thinks his son is buying drugs. When confronted, the kid then points out that he's (a) too young for that and (b) collectible card games are way more fun.
  • Ominous Visual Glitch: When Roy first visits Third Gen, all the computer monitors he walks past develop severe static, foreshadowing the high-tech tracker implanted in his tooth.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Most of the assassins are only known by the nickname Roy gives them because they either kill him or he kills them whenever they meet.
  • Paper-Thin Disguise: Roy first tries to pass as Roy #2 (since they look so similar anyway) and then as a Dynow security guard, each time by wearing just bits of related clothes. They are only mildly effective and each gets Roy killed at least once.
  • Pay Evil unto Evil: Around the second act, Roy figures out how to get the drop on the Quirky Miniboss Squad and starts taking them out using their own methods against them. Some examples shown on-screen:
    • He shoots Pam with her own gun.
    • He harpoons Smiley and drags him down the street behind his own tow truck.
    • He blows up Kaboom.
  • Please Kill Me If It Satisfies You: "Pam" is completely detached from the fact Roy is about to kill her.
  • Professional Killer: Ventor hires a rogue's gallery of assassins to kill Pulver.
  • Psycho for Hire: Ventor specifically requests assassins outside of their usual network, resulting in the hiring of some real lunatics.
  • Rule of Cool: The Movie. Roy extensively uses and abuses his knowledge of time loops for his advantage, often doing just flat out crazy things simply to see if they will work out. Beside that, there is the whole "Groundhog Day" Loop plot, the colourful Carnival of Killers, dangerous racing stunts, jumping into a helicopter from your window and so on and forth. The film doesn't even pretend to take any of its content seriously, but in the same time presents them as serious.
  • Sharp-Dressed Man: The Machete Killer is wearing a three piece suit. The black twins also seem to be severely overdressed for the occasion.
  • Shout-Out:
    • To Homage levels, with the famous Combat Pragmatist scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark and consequently, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Roy invokes this scene when facing Guan Yin in Dynow offices only to find out his gun is empty (like Indy being without a gun in Temple), making him easily defeated. Guan Yin then proceeds to explain why the scene was shot that way, to further mock Roy and his cock-sure attitude.
    • The Carnival of Killers feels straight out of Smokin' Aces (also directed by Joe Carnahan), especially as far as "Pam", "Esmeraldo" and "Smiley" are concerned.
    • The tracking device being painful to remove and then leading the assassins after Roy into a wild goose chase is very reminiscent of Total Recall (1990).
    • The hero futilely removing his regular teeth in search for a tracking device. At least he had pliers for that, rather than a telephone.
    • Brett's name might be one toward Dragged Across Concrete, given he's The Dragon for Mel Gibson's character.
    • At one point, Roy discusses his options, considering if he should pull Bolivian Army Ending to his current loop, invoking by name Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
    • Beside the general premise, Roy getting Dai Feng to train him and his progression of poor excuses is directly taken from Groundhog Day and Phil's piano lessons.
    • Dr Jemma Wells is supervising a project allowing to loop time. In other words, Wells made a time machine.
    • A dragged out fight scene from Donnybrook, a previous film with Frank Grillo, is mentioned as something he wants to explicitly avoid.
  • Shown Their Work: The arcade specializing in 8-bit games is called "Third Gen," referencing the third generation of video games, which were 8-bit. We do, however, see mostly 16-bit video games in the set itself.
  • Special Guest: Michelle Yeoh has a small role as a famous female martial artist, essentially herself with a different name.
  • Stock Scream: The minigun operator makes a classic Wilhelm when Roy throws him off-board in one of the loops.
  • The Stoic: "Pam" doesn't emote much, including when being held at gunpoint (and then killed) by Roy.
  • Super-Persistent Predator: It takes Roy forever to figure out that the real reason why the killers sent after him are so persistent and always find him easily is because he has a tracker on him.
  • Take That!: For a film involving and referencing video games, the film takes a pretty obvious swipe at adult gamers by inviting mockery of the proprietor of an arcade.
  • Taught by Experience: It's debatable how good a soldier Roy was and how many skills and general competence he picked up throughout the loops. But even he is aware that it's not always working and just taking a trial-and-error approach isn't enough, so he spends a few dozen loops on actual, mostly off-screen training.
  • Title Drop: Before Storming the Castle.
  • The Tooth Hurts: Roy discovers that he has a tracker in one of his teeth, and horrifies a countersurveillance expert by pulling out his molars one by one with a bottle of strong alcohol and a pair of pliers to search for it.
  • Trademark Favorite Food: Roy likes to drink baijiu - a strong, yet smooth going hard liquor, which he uses to get himself into a stupor.
  • Troll: Once Roy figures out how to beat the killers sent after him, he toys, mocks and outright trolls them in their confrontations. Most notable is his (implied to be one of many) duel with Guan Yin, where he performs one of her exaggerated stances, synchronised with her own move, simply to take the piss out of her.
  • Underestimating Badassery: Roy is quite cocky, so he dismisses both Guan Yin and Brett as respectively a gimmick and a fatso. They are the two people that cause him the most trouble and easily score the most "kills" on him.
  • The Villain Knows Where You Live: Not only do the bad guys have Roy's address (so he's always woken up by a guy with a machete, followed by a hit squad in a chopper), but they also know where to find his son.
  • Waif-Fu: Guan Yin is a tiny Chinese girl that kicks a metric tonne of ass and is by far the biggest obstacle in Roy's path. He's notably incapable of simply overpowering her, as she's too agile, too fast and just that good with her sword. It's only thanks to his excessive use of Trial-and-Error Gameplay that he's finally able to parry and stop her moves, but it requires him taking sword-fighting lessons and God-knows-how-many failed attempts first.
  • Weapon Specialization: Various assassins sent after Roy use highly specific weapons:
    • Guan Yin uses a sword and proves why you should never bring guns into a sword fight.
    • Kaboom is a Mad Bomber using small packs of explosives he plants on Roy and then remotely detonates.
    • "Pam" carries at first what appears to be a generic silenced pistol, but it turns out to be Adolf Hitler's custom-made and re-fitted personal Walther PPK.
    • Smiley is shown using a modified surveying harpoon and then dragging Roy across the street at high speed.
    • The Machete Killer... you get the picture.
    • The black twins are always using two examples of the same weapon. And most of the time, this means Luger P08 pistols.
    • "Roy #2" uses a SIG-Sauer P226 pistol - which is the same gun Roy himself routinely ends up with, from various sources, adding to their similarities.
    • Brett, while not being part of the Carnival of Killers, carries a Desert Eagle pistol, which is total overkill for his security job.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: In one of their confrontations, Ventor tries to paint himself as this to Roy, claiming that he wants to prevent such things like Adolf Hitler and 9/11. Roy is quick to call him out on it being just a bullshit facade of the megalomaniac dictator Ventor really is.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: An actual plot point. Each morning, Roy wakes up with a blond girl next to him, who vanishes into thin air when the carnage starts, seemingly being an inconsequential character. Eventually Roy figures out that she's working with the assassins and forcibly stops her from leaving, quickly interrogating her.
  • Would Hit a Girl:
    • Roy has no problems whatsoever dealing with female assassins. He also strong-arms the dentist he slept with at least once to get information out of her.
    • Likewise, neither Brett nor Ventor have any qualms when it comes to killing Jemma.
  • You Kill It, You Bought It: Roy eventually grows fond of Guan Yin’s sword and in his later loops is routinely seen carrying it around after disposing of her.