Frank Grillo, Naomi Watts, Michelle Yeoh, and Mel Gibson bring us a new take on time loops.
Roy Pulver (Grillo) is a retired special forces soldier who wakes up every day being attacked by a group of professional killers wielding weapons ranging from machetes to swords (wielded by the great Guan Yin (Selina Lo)) to helicopter-mounted miniguns and explosives. Having been stuck in this time loop for over 140 times, he has managed to figure out how to survive the attacks for longer periods of time, but inevitably dies every time. It turns out that his ex-wife Jemma (Naomi Watts), was messing with things beyond the natural realm of science, and her boss, Col. Ventor (Gibson), is planning on using it to be a supervillain. Roy has to figure out how to avoid the assassins and stop the time loops, possibly with some sword lessons from Michelle Yeoh (who has a character name, but it’s Michelle Yeoh). Oh, and he kills just so many bad guys.
When people talk about “development hell,” they’re talking about movies like this. This movie was set to begin production almost a decade ago, then finally got shot in 2018, at which time it failed to get distributed. There was a free screening as a promotion at some point, but then it didn’t get sent to theaters and its studio just dropped the film, leading Hulu to pick it up and finally put it out. Admittedly, this movie might have been a little better if you saw it before the recent run of time-loop films, which it should have preceded by literal years, but I still enjoyed it.
It’s weird that I can’t think of another movie that has casually drawn the connection between time-loops and video games. From the title to the opening shot to the opening narration, this film makes it clear that this situation is basically just a high-intensity action game that Roy has to beat. That makes some of the more ridiculous characters forgivable, because video games often have insane supporting casts and heavily styled bad guys (there’s a redneck with a harpoon, a little person explosives expert, twin assassins, etc.). It even justifies one of my favorite elements, that Guan Yin has a literal victory pose and phrase “I am Guan Yin, and Guan Yin has done this.” The movie even has Roy’s son Joe (Rio Grillo) into old-school video games in order to make it even more tied in. It’s not like the movie is actually taking place in a video game, it’s just drawing the comparison so that you can accept the conceit more easily. I also appreciate that the film tries to avoid having to devote half its budget to continuity just by saying that there are “slight variations” on each run-through.
The main thing that makes this film work is that Frank Grillo is basically the modern version of an ‘80s action hero. That’s why he was so good as Crossbones, because he seems like the kind of guy who could tear through hordes of men on his own. Since he narrates most of the movie, he’s a little more of a wisecracking type action star, which gives the film a level of humor that is needed to get you through some of the more repetitive parts. It helps that there is a strong amount of character growth, particularly when it comes to Roy and his son. I admit that it helps that his son is played by Grillo’s actual child, which makes their scenes more genuine. The supporting characters, naturally, are pretty great, even though most of them are only there to kill Roy as quickly and humorously as possible.
Overall, I really thought this was a fun film. It might have needed a bit more editing, and it definitely wastes some of its better actors, but it gives you a decent ride.
If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time, Collection of TV Episodes, Collection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.
If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.