Bad Trip

★★★★½ 

I wasn’t super-familiar with Eric Andre coming into “Bad Trip” (now streaming on Netflix). I’ve never seen an entire episode of Adult Swim’s “The Eric Andre Show.” I mostly know him by reputation, his guest stints on “2 Broke Girls” (my wife’s a fan) and the memes in which he’s depicted gunning down comedian Hannibal Burress.

Perhaps it’s my ignorance of Andre’s catalogue that allowed to me enjoy “Bad Trip” as thoroughly as I did? Viewers who are more attuned to Andre’s oeuvre appear to be less impressed by the picture. I look at it like this – if Yellow Submarine were the only Beatles record you ever listened to, you’d still likely dig it. It’s the fuckin’ Beatles. They’re good. It ain’t Revolver or Sgt. Pepper’s, but you don’t know any better. Andre is funny. “Bad Trip” is funny … uproariously so. I haven’t laughed this much or this hard at a movie in ages.

Andre stars as Chris, a goofy-ass gig worker who runs across his high school crush Maria (Michaela Conlin of Fox’s “Bones”) at the Miami-based auto detailer where he’s employed and again a year later at the juice bar where he now toils. Maria doesn’t remember Chris at first – he jogs her memory by referring to himself as “Retard Chris.” She’s friendly enough telling him that she’s only in town briefly and must return to the Manhattan art gallery she owns and operates.

Emboldened by his rekindled infatuation, Chris convinces his best friend Bud (Lil Rel Howery, the definition of good sport) to “borrow” the car (a hot pink Crown Vic dubbed “Bad Bitch”) of his incarcerated sister Trina (Tiffany Haddish) in order to drive from Miami to Manhattan in hopes of winning Maria’s heart. Bud begrudgingly agrees, but Trina escapes from a prison transport and is quickly in pursuit of the duo with murderous intentions for having stolen her vehicle.

The plot is thin (it’s essentially a reskinning of “Dumb and Dumber”) and it’s mostly just a frame upon which the filmmakers hang prank opportunities akin to those seen in “Jackass” and “Borat” and generally just wreak havoc across the Eastern Seaboard. The audience is treated to a ridiculous musical number, a far more graphic rendition of the gorilla rape from “Trading Places” and a number of other stunts … most of them involving a variety of bodily fluids.

“Bad Trip” isn’t for the squeamish or the easily offended, but it differs from its forebears through its optimism. Sacha Baron Cohen often stages gotcha moments in order to reveal his target’s stupidity or racism. Andre, director Kitao Sakurai and their co-writers Kathryn Borel, Dan Curry and Jenna Park often opt to depict basic human decency. Empathy is shown by a nurse who attempts to give Chris aid when he falls from a great height and later begins projectile vomiting in a honkytonk, a Marine recruiter consoles Chris when he’s bottoming out, one bystander tries to deescalate a fight between Chris and Bud and another tries to talk Trina out of dropping Chris off the side of a building. Goodwill is further extended when these folks are invited to be part of the joke as opposed to the joke itself during the closing credits blooper reel.

“Bad Trip” excels in showing real reactions to absurd situations. It’s also a wonderful showcase for Haddish, who finally makes good on all the promise she showed in “Girls Trip” – she’s unhinged and insanely funny here. Then again, you can likely take my opinion with a grain of salt – I’m the same critic who dug “Kids in the Hall: Brain Candy” and the “Mr. Show” movie “Run Ronnie Run!” Funny is funny whether it’s a comedian’s best work or not – and “Bad Trip” has certainly inspired me to check out “The Eric Andre Show” to see what it is I’ve been missing.

Shoplifters of the World

★★1/2

I’m both too young and too old to fully relate to the Smiths breakup pic “Shoplifters of the World,” which will be available on VOD and in select theaters beginning Friday, Mar. 26.

I was 5 years old when the Smiths broke up in the summer of 1987. I mostly know of them via needle drops of “How Soon Is Now?” from “The Craft” or as the theme song to The WB’s “Charmed,” Craig Kilborn’s oft-discussed obsession with frontman Morrissey on “The Late Late Show” or due to ignorant comments Morrissey’s made regarding immigration in the U.K. within the past few years.

I wouldn’t fanboy out in the way the teenage characters do here. If my favorite band were to break up I wouldn’t drive down to my local radio station and wave a gun in the DJ’s face demanding they play the group’s tunes. Nor would I crash someone else’s party to force my music upon others and subsequently judge them for not digging it. (My favorite band is Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. When Petty died – ostensibly ending the group – I didn’t act a fool … I simply listened to a ton of their tunes and cried A LOT.)

“Shoplifters of the World” reminds me a bit of those “one night in the lives of youths” pictures such as “American Graffiti,” “Dazed and Confused” and “Can’t Hardly Wait” with a dose of ‘90s counterculture flicks such as “Pump Up the Volume” or “Empire Records” thrown in for good measure, but it’s not nearly as assured as any of these movies.

The film is “based on true intentions.” Dean (Ellar Coltrane) is a record store employee reeling from the Smiths breakup. He has a crush on fellow Smiths devotee Cleo (Helena Howard, “Madeline’s Madeline”), whom he lets shoplift tapes. She too is stinging from the breakup.

Their paths diverge as Cleo plans to spend her evening partying with friends Sheila (Elena Kampouris of the recent “Children of the Corn” redux), Patrick (James Bloor, one of the interchangeable white dudes in Christopher Nolan’s “Dunkirk”) and Billy (Nick Krause) whereas Dean intends to hold DJ Full Metal Mickey (Joe Manganiello) hostage with a pistol he procured from the store.

“Shoplifters of the World” is written and directed Stephen Kijak. Kijak’s only narrative feature films are his 1996 debut “Never Met Picasso” and this – in between he directed numerous music documentaries such as “Scott Walker: 30 Century Man,” “Stones in Exile,” “Backstreet Boys: Show ‘Em What You’re Made Of,” “Jaco,” “We Are X” and “If I Leave Here Tomorrow: A Film About Lynyrd Skynyrd.” Kijak clumsily weaves elements of narrative features with documentaries by incorporating archival interview footage of Morrissey and guitarist Johnny Marr and even resorts to lamely including song titles and lyrics in the dialogue.

A lot of these affectations leave the actors struggling. Coltrane and Krause were both great in Richard Linklater’s “Boyhood.” Krause also excelled by getting socked in the nose by Robert Forster in Alexander Payne’s “The Descendants.” Some of acting is posing, but these young men generally read like poseurs. The young ladies fare better as Howard and Kampouris feel more authentic and have more substantial arcs to play. The picture’s true standout is Manganiello (who produced alongside his brother Nick). His metalhead DJ is warmer and funnier than you’d expect and he elevates Coltrane’s performance in their scenes together.

I can’t in good conscience recommend “Shoplifters of the World,” but I’m also probably not its target audience. If you’re a fan of the Smiths from back in the ‘80s or an emotive teenager now it’ll probably resonate with you more deeply than it did me.

Phobias

★★1/2

“Phobias” (now available on VOD) is the latest in a long line of horror anthologies. As is wont for these sorts of movies the wraparound is fairly lame, but some of the stories shine individually.

“Phobias” is comprised of five tales and a sixth that ties them all together. They are written and directed by Joe Sill (“Robophobia”), Jess Varley (“Outpost 37,” which is the wraparound, and “Atelephobia”), Maritte Go (“Vehophobia”), actress Camilla Belle (“Hoplophobia”) and Chris von Hoffman (“Ephebiphobia”).

“Robophobia” concerns a programmer named Johnny (Leonardo Nam) who’s bullied by local toughs led by Dirk (Micah Hauptman) for being Asian, which makes for a rough watch given recent happenings. Johnny’s a good guy who’s taking care of his ailing father Jung-Soo (Steve Park, who you may remember from “In Living Color” or as Mike Yanagita in “Fargo”). An artificial intelligence entity intervenes on Johnny’s behalf to handle his attackers as well as abusive neighbor Mr. Romero (Gerardo de Pablos). The AI’s desire to alleviate Jung-Soo’s pain and Johnny’s responsibility with a permanent solution proves to be a bridge too far.

The AI’s actions land Johnny in Outpost 37, a government facility where Dr. Wright (Ross Partridge) is harnessing the fears of his prisoners in order to unleash them on society to keep the populace in check. It’s here that Johnny meets fellow inmates Sami (Hana Mae Li of the “Pitch Perfect” pictures), Alma (Martina García), Emma (Lauren Miller Rogen – writer, producer and star of “For a Good Time, Call…” and wife of Seth) and Renee (R&B songstress Macy Gray) – each of these ladies star in the remaining stories where we learn the basis of their fears.

The strongest and scariest segment is von Hoffman’s “Ephebiphobia,” in which Miller Rogen’s Emma is a middle school teacher attacked by an angry trio of teenagers led by Blaire (Mackenzie Brooke Smith). I’m a fan of von Hoffman’s 2018 feature “Monster Party,” which is currently available to stream on Shudder. He brings his formidable home invasion horror bonafides to this story. The proceedings are elevated by the convincing fashion in which Miller Rogen plays fear and Smith plays psychosis. I dug the segment enough where I kinda wish it was fleshed out more to become its own standalone film. Additionally, I look forward to von Hoffman’s next full-length effort … whatever it may be.

“Phobias” is executive produced by Gray and the filmmaking collective Radio Silence comprised of Chad Villella, Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, who are old hands at these horror anthologies between “V/H/S” and “Southbound.” There’s a good deal to dig about “Phobias” – it has the coolest opening credits I’ve seen in a hot minute and even segments I didn’t love have commendable elements (Belle’s “Hoplophobia” has an incredibly assured apartment raid for a first-time filmmaker working with a low budget; Varley’s “Atelephobia” has real deal instances of body horror). I mostly just wish the connective tissue was cooler or that I was rewatching Radio Silence’s “Ready or Not” or peeping their “Scream” (2022) for the first time. Anthologies are aight. Features are more fun.

Cherry

★★1/2

There’s a lot to recommend about Anthony and Joe Russo’s “Cherry” (now available in select theaters and on Apple TV+ beginning Friday, March 12). There’s just as much to pan about it. I’m not going to dogpile on “Cherry” to the same extent a lot of my critic colleagues have, but I’m not here to heap praise upon it either.

Tom Holland stars as our nameless protagonist. We see him as a college student, young lover, soldier, junkie and serial bank robber. (The movie derives its title from a nickname Holland’s character receives during basic training.)

When we’re introduced to Cherry he’s a Cleveland-based college student who pals around with his buds James Lightfoot (Forrest Goodluck of last year’s “Blood Quantum” and “I Used to Go Here”) and Cousin Joe (Michael Gandolfini, son of James and soon to be seen playing young Tony Soprano in “The Many Saints of Newark”). Initially, Cherry’s drug use (mostly Ecstasy) is played for laughs as opposed to being disquieting. Cherry takes a shine to Emily (Ciara Bravo) even though he’s got a girlfriend named Madison (Kelli Berglund) at another university. Cherry and Emily begin dating and their relationship is great until it’s not – rashly prompting him to drop out of school and enlist in the Army. The young couple rekindle their romance and get married prior to Cherry reporting to boot camp.

During training and through deployment Cherry befriends fellow medic Jimenez (Jeff Wahlberg, nephew of Donnie and Mark). Both men enter the service through desperation and it’s an ill fit for each of ‘em. They abhor their time in Iraq. Upon returning home from a two-year bit Cherry is awarded a Medal of Valor, reunites with Emily and develops post-traumatic stress disorder. To help quell his PTSD Cherry begins popping Oxycodone like Skittles, which eventually leads him to heroin. Emily, sick of Cherry’s bullshit, follows him down the rabbit hole prompting financial ruin for them both. Desperate, Cherry takes to robbing banks to ensure they can keep needles in their arms.

“Cherry” does a lot right. The Russo brothers are from Cleveland, they opted to do most of their shooting there and the film feels true to the area. I enjoyed a lot of the soundtrack which leans heavily on Van Morrison tunes. It’s a good-looking picture as shot by Newton Thomas Sigel, who received an American Society of Cinematographers Outstanding Achievement nomination for his work on the film. (I personally would’ve preferred to see his work on Spike Lee’s “Da 5 Bloods” recognized.) If there’s one element of the proceedings that works and makes the movie recommendable it’s the performances of Holland and Bravo. The transformation these two undergo from the beginning to the end is pretty staggering with their generally youthful appearances making it all the more heartbreaking.

“Cherry,” which is an adaptation of Nico Walker’s semi-autobiographical novel of the same name by Jessica Goldberg (of Hulu’s “The Path” and Netflix’s “Away”) and Angela Russo-Otstot (the Russo brothers’ sister), is a tale that deserves telling – the opioid crisis is a serious issue and veterans need to be treated better upon returning to the States. I could simply have opioid fatigue after having already watched “Body Brokers” (the best of these pictures) and “Crisis” this year? But more likely it’s that these filmmakers made missteps in bringing Walker’s work to the screen. Much of the voiceover Holland’s saddled with is eye-rollingly bad. The names of the banks Cherry robs (Shittybank, Bank Fucks America) and the doctor who initially prescribes him oxy (Dr. Whomever as played by “The State” stalwart Thomas Lennon wearing a wig and fake beard that’d befit one of that show’s skits) are so painfully on the nose that I felt like my schnoz had been bashed into my brain. Speaking of being on the nose, playing the Trammps’ “Disco Inferno” one scene after Cherry’s squadmates are burnt alive in a Humvee left a particularly bad taste in my mouth. Also, don’t get me started on Cherry’s drug dealer Pills & Coke (Jack Reynor). You know this dude’s a “cunt nugget” (his words, not mine) because when we meet him he threatens to shoot heroin into the mouth of his special needs sister played by Jamie Brewer of “American Horror Story.” Reynor’s an actor I generally dig and respect, but his role is so terribly written and performed one could argue he deserves a return trip to the bear suit.

I get why the Russo brothers employed style over substance with “Cherry.” They likely wanted to separate their project from the glut of other drug pictures. Had it been more stripped-down it likely would’ve felt more rote, but arguably more authentic also. “Cherry” isn’t the Russo brothers’ worst film (I’d debate that’s their debut, “Welcome to Collinwood”), but it’s pretty darned close. They make so many flummoxing decisions … some of them are funny – casting Damon Wayans Jr. as a drill instructor feels like a cheeky continuation of his father’s character in “Major Payne,” the mustache Holland sports late in the picture makes him look like he’s auditioning to play Super Mario … most of them are vexing. There’s even a POV shot from inside a soldier’s anus where a doctor shines a light into it. Perhaps if the Russo brothers had removed their heads from their asses we’d have a better movie? “Cherry” feels like a flick that was directed by Mr. Mackey, the guidance counselor from “South Park” – “War is bad, m’kay? Drugs are bad, m’kay?”

Son

★★★

“Son” (now available on VOD) is the latest in a long line of supernatural horror flicks involving a creepy kid. Even though it’s pretty well-worn territory, this movie has a coupla tricks up its sleeves and is well-made and well-acted enough to warrant a marginal recommendation.

We open on Laura (Andi Matichak), a pregnant young woman who’s escaping from two men that are pursuing her. She seeks refuge in a diner, but they follow her inside. She flees the eatery, gets back in her car and speeds away until she’s forced to pull over in order to give birth.

Flash forward 10 years. Laura is now a pre-school teacher and doting mother to David (Luke David Blumm, who you may remember as the kid Pete Davidson tattooed in “The King of Staten Island”). David is a sweet boy who loves his mother. Their life is fairly idyllic until a fateful night when members of the cult Laura escaped show up to their home. The cultists disappear as quickly as they arrived. Upon their departure, David almost immediately falls gravely ill.

Enter detectives Paul (Emile Hirsch) and Steve (Cranston Johnson). Paul believes Laura and does what he can to assist her. Steve is more skeptical and seeks to dig deeper on the case. As David’s condition worsens with unusual side effects, Laura takes the boy and goes on the run.

I’ve liked Matichak ever since I first saw her in David Gordon Green’s “Halloween.” She further cements her scream queen status here playing both protective mother bear and possible head case. Blumm is a unique screen presence. “Son” is only his second feature film credit. Blumm isn’t as polished as many of his child actor contemporaries, but he brings a genuine youthful energy and sweetness to the role that juxtaposes interestingly with the direction his character ultimately takes. He feels like a normal kid placed in an abnormal situation. Hirsch, who also served as executive producer, is an actor I generally dig despite missteps he’s made in real life … missteps that seem to have affected his career. His work here is some of the best he’s done in recent memory – it’s certainly better than his turn in last year’s putrid “Force of Nature.” Hirsch reads more manly and less boyish here, which should open him up to more and better roles in the future.

“Son” as written and directed by Irish filmmaker Ivan Kavanaugh is awfully bleak but almost always engaging. It isn’t scary so much as it is disturbing. Kavanaugh coaxes assured performances from his cast, ratchets up tension effectively and composes striking images alongside cinematographer Piers McGrail. Interestingly enough, the sound design and score were both done by the same guy – Aza Hand. Each of these elements ably evoke the dread I presume Kavanaugh desired.

I wanted to watch Kavanaugh’s previous collaboration with Hirsch (the 2019 Western “Never Grow Old,” which co-starred John Cusack) prior to reviewing “Son” to better contextualize his work and their creative partnership. I was unable to do so, but “Son” was intriguing enough that “Never Grow Old” will find a place on my dance card sooner as opposed to later.  

Coming 2 America

★★★

Eddie Murphy was damned near unstoppable in the ‘80s. He’s one of the youngest and funniest cast members “Saturday Night Live” has ever had. He was in a string of movies and stand-up specials that were both critically and commercially viable, i.e. “48 Hrs.,” “Trading Places,” “Eddie Murphy: Delirious,” “Beverly Hills Cop,” “Beverly Hills Cop II,” “Eddie Murphy: Raw” and “Coming to America.” Murphy’s only real missteps during the Me Decade were “Best Defense” and “The Golden Child.”

The ‘90s and aughts weren’t nearly as kind to Murphy. His only real standouts were “The Nutty Professor,” “Metro,” “Life,” “Bowfinger,” voicing Donkey in “Shrek” and a dramatic supporting turn in “Dreamgirls.” He made a comeback of sorts a coupla years back by teaming with director Craig Brewer for Netflix’s “Dolemite Is My Name.” He’s now reteamed with Brewer to revisit one of his greatest successes almost 33 years after its release with “Coming 2 America,” which is currently available to stream on Amazon Prime Video.

Prince Akeem (Murphy) has been living a life of marital bliss with Lisa (Shari Headley) in the fictional African country of Zamunda for the past 30 years. They have three daughters together – Meeka (KiKi Layne), Omma (Murphy’s real-life daughter, Bella) and Tinashe (Akiley Love). Nearby fellow leader General Izzi (Wesley Snipes) wants to wed his son Idi (Rotimi) to Meeka to ensure trade relations and peace between his people and the Zamundans.

Meeka has no want or need to wed Idi. She has intentions of her own hoping to one day rule Zamunda as its Queen. Unfortunately for Meeka, Zamunda has traditions decreeing that only male heirs are fit to lead. Sadder still, Prince Akeem has just been informed by his faithful servant Semmi (Arsenio Hall) that he has an illegitimate son spurred from a night of drinking and inadvertent drugging with Mary Junson (Leslie Jones) back in Queens, N.Y.

Enter Lavelle Junson (Jermaine Fowler), 30-year-old ticket scalper and future heir to the Zamundan throne. Akeem and Semmi return to Queens in order to retrieve Lavelle, bring him back to Zamunda and marry him off to Izzi’s daughter Bopoto (Teyana Taylor), but Lavelle has ideas of his own and a lot of them involve royal hairdresser Mirembe (Nomzamo Mbatha).

Comedy sequels often enact a law of diminishing returns and sequels coming many years after their predecessor can feel stale. Both of these assertions hold weight with “Coming 2 America,” but that doesn’t mean the movie’s without positive attributes of its own. “Coming to America” is a high bar to hurdle – one that “Coming 2 America” doesn’t clear, but by flipping the fish out of water concept to focus on Fowler’s Lavelle adjusting to Zamundan society and royal customs the picture is lent a personality all its own. It helps greatly that Fowler’s fairly likable and often funny putting a new spin on old tricks. Murphy’s Akeem may be face on the poster, but Lavelle is ultimately the main character.

The pro-woman messaging employed by returning screenwriters Barry W. Blaustein and David Sheffield as well as franchise newcomer Kenya Barris (“Black-ish”) is obvious but ultimately welcome and worthwhile. Layne does good work with this subplot and gives audiences a secondary character to root for, but she doesn’t impress to the same degree she did in “If Beale Street Could Talk” and “The Old Guard.” (This is more a reflection of the project as opposed to the performer. I still think this young lady’s gonna be a big ol’ star.)

The picture isn’t as romantic as its predecessor in spite of solid chemistry between Fowler and Mbatha. The flick isn’t consistently funny either, but it’s never less than entertaining. Most of the movie’s laughs are derived by Murphy and Hall jettisoning their primary characters to revisit old favorites such as barber shop inhabitants Clarence, Saul and Morris, Reverend Brown and Randy Watson. It’s also nice to see the returns of James Earl Jones and John Amos despite them having limited screen time. New additions Jones and Tracy Morgan (as Lavelle’s Uncle Reem) contribute a handful of chuckles. Fellow newbie Snipes doesn’t fare as well, which is surprising as he was so inspired working with Murphy and Brewer on “Dolemite Is My Name” … the dude’s just super-weird here – less ha ha and more nah nah.

I’d naively hoped “Coming 2 America” would hit the heights of “Coming to America” or “Dolemite Is My Name,” and it fails on both accounts. In spite of this, it’s an entertaining-enough sequel that’s better than the likes of “Teen Wolf Too,” “Caddyshack II,” “Weekend at Bernie’s II,” “Beverly Hills Cop III,” “Blues Brothers 2000,” “Son of the Mask” or any comedy Murphy’s appeared in over the last 20 years or so.

Boss Level

★★★★

I’m a big fan of Joe Carnahan as a filmmaker. “Narc,” “The Grey” and “The A-Team” are all great. “Smokin’ Aces” and “Stretch” are fun. The only movie of Carnahan’s I don’t dig is his ultra-low-budget debut “Blood, Guts, Bullets and Octane.”

Carnahan hasn’t always had the best of luck as a director. At one point or another he was attached to the following projects – “Mission Impossible 3,” a George Clooney-fronted adaptation of James Ellroy’s “White Jazz,” a remake of Otto Preminger’s “Bunny Lake Is Missing” starring Reese Witherspoon, an adaptation of Mark Bowden’s “Killing Pablo” that had both Javier Bardem and Édgar Ramírez attached as the titular character, “A Walk Among the Tombstones” when Harrison Ford was slated to star, MGM’s remake of “Death Wish” (Carnahan wanted to cast Frank Grillo as the lead; the studio wanted and eventually went with Bruce Willis) and “Bad Boys for Life” (he left the project over creative differences with Will Smith, but remained one of the three credited screenwriters).

This brings us to “Boss Level,” which is now available to stream on Hulu. True to Carnahan form, this didn’t come to audiences easily either. The movie, initially developed at 20th Century Fox in 2012 under the title “Continue,” began filming in April 2018 and was supposed to be released by Entertainment Studios Motion Pictures on Aug. 16, 2019, but that date came and went before the streamer picked up the picture for low eight figures late last year.

Grillo stars as retired Special Forces officer Roy Pulver, who opted to abandon his scientist girlfriend Jemma (Naomi Watts) and their son Joe (Grillo’s real-life son Rio) in order to continue getting his adrenalized thrills playing soldier in the sandbox.

Roy’s returned home remorseful over having been absent in the lives of his loved ones. He attempts to gain employment as security in Jemma’s lab where she works for Col. Clive Ventor (Mel Gibson) developing a MacGuffin time travel device called the Osiris Spindle.

Jemma, concerned about Ventor’s intentions for the Spindle, places Roy inside the machine where he’ll have to continue living the same day repeatedly in hopes of thwarting Ventor and saving Jemma, Joe and the world as a whole. Ventor employs a rogue’s gallery of assassins (calling to mind Carnahan’s “Smokin’ Aces” and embodied eclectically by martial artist/actress Selina Lo, former B.A. Baracus Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson and recent recurring Super Bowl champion Rob Gronkowski, amongst others) in order to vanquish Roy.

“Boss Level” plays out like a bloodier, bro’d out version of “Edge of Tomorrow.” It’s nowhere near as charming as last year’s “Palm Springs” (Hulu’s other time loop title), but that’s not to say it’s charmless. This is a big ol’ coming out party for Grillo as a leading man. He’s more than up for the task and has charm in spades. Grillo plays annoyance, agitation and anger beautifully. Carnahan and his co-writers brothers Chris and Eddie Borey dream up countless ways of dispatching Roy and Grillo sells ‘em all humorously. Additionally, Grillo is in absolutely bonkers shape for a 55-year-old man and brings real emotional heft to third act scenes between he and Rio. (This is a casting coup for Carnahan. You can’t fake the real love between father and son. The junior Grillo has presence to boot.) “Boss Level” is one of eight pictures Grillo has releasing in 2021. He’s good enough that he deserves to work this much. I eagerly anticipate Grillo and Carnahan’s next collaboration through their WarParty Films production shingle, “Cop Shop,” which co-stars Gerard Butler and is currently slated for release later this year.

As good as Grillo is (and he’s very, very good), there isn’t a whole lot of meat left on the bone for his co-stars. Watts and Michelle Yeoh (as a mysterious swordswoman named Dai Feng who trains Roy in the art of the blade) come across as smart, capable and badass women, but this has more to do with them being Watts and Yeoh and less to do with the movie itself. Yeoh especially seems underserved by the proceedings with her character’s development being relegated to a single montage. (I suspect a lot of her work wound up on the cutting room floor.) Gibson too doesn’t have much scenery to chew. I wish the filmmakers had loosened his leash and really let him rip. I did enjoy Will Sasso (Curly in the Farrelly Brothers’ 2012 “The Three Stooges” redux) as Ventor’s henchman, Brett, however.

“Boss Level” should appeal to fans of Carnahan’s, Grillo’s, time loop tales, video games and cool tunes (there are expert needle drops from Boston, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Roy Orbison, Badfinger and Black Flag as well as “South American Getaway” from “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”). It’s simply a fun fucking flick. Besides, it’s not every day that audiences can watch a movie where its protagonist gets decapitated a dozen times.