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‘Boss Level’ skilled with both comic-book mayhem, heartfelt family drama

The cool thing about time-loop movies is, they kinda require an actual plot.

Which is also the paradoxical thing — because in time-loop tales such as “Groundhog Day” and “Edge of Tomorrow,” a character keeps living the same events over and over.

To prevent dreary monotony in this recurring cycle, there must be some definite development: In each reboot, the day alters slightly; or the character figures out something new — or begins to grow as a person.

That is certainly the case with the entertaining “Boss Level,” which at first plays its repetition for laughs, then gradually becomes more emotional and dramatic. It’s violent and sometimes silly, but it never tries too hard, and the cast is top-notch.

Frank Grillo plays Roy Pulver, a retired Delta Force soldier who finds himself stuck in a repeating day where countless people try to kill him — with blazing success. Each time he dies he returns to morning — and though he improves at navigating the outlandish assaults (helicopter, crossbow, car chase, hail of bullets), he can’t seem to get past a certain time of day; nor does he care, since his lovely wife (Naomi Watts) has died during the loop. Yet somehow, we can tell it’s all connected to their meeting the day before, and to a dangerous program she was developing for her sinister employer (Mel Gibson).

“Boss Level” begins at Pulver’s 140th run-through; with his comical, world-weary voiceover and his initial fistfight while holding a coffee pot in one hand and creamer in the other, we quickly side with him in his plight. The plot hurtles swiftly through 100 more attempts, fueled by time-themed, classic-rock nuggets by Badfinger and the Chambers Brothers (Boston, incidentally, makes great background music for action scenes).

Meanwhile, Roy realizes that 1) he failed his wife in the past; 2) the time-loop mechanism will eventually lead to an apocalypse; and 3) he must reconnect with his son and save him if he can.

While it succeeds as comic-book mayhem for most of its length, “Boss Level” smoothly transitions to heartfelt family drama in its final act, then pulls off an abrupt and unexpected ending which feels just about perfect.

Grillo is an engaging presence; it’s no surprise that this lesser-known actor has made 22 films in the last five years. Watts adds enormous emotional gravitas, and Gibson makes a terrific villain. Eagle-eyed viewers might also spot NFL superstar Rob Gronkowski as the helicopter gunner.

Last week, I lamented how the new “Tom & Jerry” film failed to provide the sort of escapist fun we expected. Currently streaming on Hulu, “Boss Level” fits the bill nicely — though I don’t think even Tom ever got decapitated nearly as often as Roy does here.

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