The consistent delivery of time loop movies can, at times, make you feel like your stuck in one yourself, especially since so many of the subgenre’s entries are woefully derivative. At their best, movies of this concept call attention to the small joys of life or the pervasive chaos of it all. At their worst, the concept feels like a vacuous gimmick to prop up a frail narrative. Boss Level very much falls into the latter, as it follows Roy Pulver (Frank Grillo), an ex-specials forces solider who’s locked in a time loop where numerous assassins are constantly after him. After over a hundred times through the brutal cycle, he’s begun to suspect that it’s somehow linked to his ex-wife Jemma (Naomi Watts), who oversees a shadowy project for a sinister corporation led by an ominous figure (Mel Gibson).
Like Groundhog Day‘s Phil Connors at his most nihilistic, Boss Level embraces the carnage, literalizing the idea as action movies do. But, as directed by Joe Carnahan, Boss Level also attempts to paper over a slight narrative with rhythmically choreographed punches, bullets, and swords, with some greeting-card level life lessons on the side. It’s exactly as straightforward as it sounds, and as disposably standard. And, even for viewers unacquainted with movies like Source Code, or Edge of Tomorrow, or the recent Palm Springs, Boss Level will still feel like another time through the same old loop. All pat machismo, Boss Level always feels as if it’s following in better footsteps, just weakly aping its predecessors and simply going through the motions.
Boss Level will be available to stream on Hulu on March 5
At the heart of Cowboys is a couple in crisis, as their both split on how to raise their transgender son Joe (Sasha Knight). In this Western family drama, the father, Troy (Steve Zahn), is happy to acknowledge his son’s identity, but Troy’s scatterbrained sweetness makes it hard for his wife, Sally (Jillian Bell), to see his support as anything more than indulgence. At home, Sally enforces girliness, and she wins custody when she and Troy separate. Joe begs his father to take him away. So in response, Troy steals his son from home, and leads him into the woods on horseback, trudging from the Montana home to the Canadian border, with the police and Amber Alerts on their tails.
Evoking the magic of classic buddy Westerns, Cowboys soon puts the complicated Troy and Joe at the center, with writer-director Anna Kerrigan delivering grand landscapes with a delicate scope. No matter how timely the conflicts of her movie are, Kerrigan never sensationalizes her story. Her characters don’t speak like they’re giving a lecture to the audience; instead, their communication is through their disagreements and decisions under pressure. This sensitivity grants the film a mellowness, never fully hitting a harsh gallop in its subtle excavation of masculinity. While the film falters a bit when keeping Joe at a distance, Kerrigan’s observant nature does offer Zahn in particular the opportunity to expand into new territory. He hasn’t lost the spaciness that once made him a great comedic sidekick, but here he endows fatherhood with that same charm, pathos, and even tragedy. He understands and supports his son, but he may not have the wherewithal to make decisions that will benefit them both. While uneven in regards to its plotting and perspectives, Cowboys is entirely winsome through its poignant empathy.
Cowboys is available on VOD