Not quite a drama and not quite an all-out action movie, "Unleashed" stars Jet Li as a man who is essentially a dog, a being who has been caged and fed like an animal since he was a child and now is a ruthless killing machine upon command. While trained to kill and destroy, there is still a good person in him somewhere, and when he manages to escape from his master he begins to realize what humanity has to offer. That being said, there is still plenty of punching, kicking and killing for Li fans to drool over.
Originally titled "Danny the Dog," "Unleashed" has Li under the control of his Uncle Bart (Bob Hoskins), both of whom do a superb job in their given roles. Hoskins is perfect as the vicious, intelligent and manipulate keeper of his pet, and Li balances the difficult role of playing an all-but-brainless killer and an intelligent, warm-hearted music lover quite well. I've always liked Li since I first saw him kick ass in "Lethal Weapon 4," but most of his movies have never connected with me very much - mainly because they typically aren't all that great. "Unleashed" is definitely one of his finer movies, though some people may be turned off by the fact that the middle act is essentially action-less...
Hoskins and all the fighting pretty much disappear in the middle section of the film and are replaced by none other than Morgan Freeman, who plays a blind pianist who nurses Li back to health after a car accident and trains him to be human again. Freeman, of course, is pretty good, though it is quite surprising to see him in a movie like this. The second act follows the resurrection of the humanity within Danny, from silent creature to a sensitive man who enjoys music. It may sound weird, and it is, but the movie never loses its pace.
As for the action, it is quite intense, though I liked it more for the pain effect than anything else. Another oddity about Li is that I generally like his fighting style but don't often like the action scenes he fights in; they typically come off as over-the-top and unintentionally silly, even when they are definitely more hard-core than most other kung fu films that make it over to the states. The fighting in "Unleashed" is pretty entertaining as there are plenty of broken bones and cool moves, but some of the scenes still failed to really engage me. Nonetheless, director Louis Leterrier ("The Transporter" movies) knows how to handle his visuals and "Unleashed" is always stimulating, even when no one is getting their ass kicked.
"Unleashed" is a relatively unique action film that manages to effectively blend action and drama together; however, people who do not like weird movies or action movies with long stretches of no action should probably stay clear.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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