Unleashed

Movie Information

Score:

Genre: Martial Arts Gangster Actioner
Director: Louis Leterrier
Starring: Jet Li, Morgan Freeman, Bob Hoskins, Kerry Condon
Rated: R

This movie has made my list of the top 10 most preposterous movies ever made, which isn’t to say that it’s not entertaining, in its way, merely that it’s … well, preposterous.

Of course, that’s not entirely unexpected, given that the movie is the work of producer/writer Luc Besson and director Louis Leterrier, who last teamed up to give us The Transporter. This time, however, they’ve scouted new vistas in preposterousness — only it’s somewhat less fun, since they also seem to be of the opinion that there’s more here than a wildly improbable action movie.

What that means, in this case, is that there’s supposed to be a warmly human story about redemption sandwiched between the requisite action scenes. What that translates to is a lot of wisdom spouted by Morgan Freeman, who is saddled with yet another role written entirely in Morgan Freemanspeak, and a questionable quasi-romance between Jet Li and a woman (Kerry Condon, Ned Kelly) about 25 years his junior.

None of this, however, does a darn thing to get us past a screwy basic concept and a performance by Bob Hoskins that suggests a combination of Michael Gambon’s blustering uber-gangster in Peter Greenaway’s The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover and the kind of invincibility generally associated with Friday the 13th‘s Jason Voorhees.

Let’s start with the premise. Li stars as Danny, a hapless fellow who’s been raised as though he were a dog by Glaswegian gangland figure Bart (Hoskins). (I have no idea why the movie is set in Glasgow, and Hoskins certainly doesn’t affect a Scottish accent — but we’ll let that pass.)

Danny, it seems, helps Bart collect debts. No silly threats of nailing anyone’s knees to the floor for this gangster; he merely takes the collar off Danny and sics him on deadbeats, with apparently fatal results. Now, just exactly when, where and how Danny learned all his martial arts moves while he was being raised like a dog is open to question, but then, I also wondered why Bart never rolls the car window down so that Danny can stick his head out and enjoy the ride with his tongue hanging out.

Now, you may also wonder how the authorities seem completely unaware of these showy displays of violence, and why the legality of keeping Danny in this fashion has never cropped up. If you’re waiting for the script to answer such questions, you’ll still be waiting at the end of the movie, because, quite frankly, the Glasgow Police Department appears to be nonexistent.

Personally, I’m not even sure why Bart needs anyone to back him up. In one instance, six or so thugs set on him with nightsticks, mercilessly whacking away with no apparent result; but as soon as he gets his mitts on a stick, legs are broken and thugs are dropping faster than red-uniformed crew members on Star Trek. Then again, logic is not high on the list of the movie’s concerns, as witnessed by the fact that Danny seems completely unaware of even the most rudimentary hygienic practices, but is somehow nonetheless always cleanly shaved. This grooming, of course, is an attempt to keep Danny as a kind of innocent man-child, and a scraggly beard would be contrary to that image — no matter how scruffy he might otherwise be.

The preposterous factor increases by leaps and bounds when Danny runs into Sam (Freeman), a kindly blind piano tuner who immediately touches Danny by treating him as a human being (shades of the blind hermit and the monster in Bride of Frankenstein). Danny’s future is about to take a more sinister turn, thanks to the machinations of a gent who stages fights to the death for the amusement of Glasgow’s more jaded sophisticates. Alas, before Bart can really cash in on this fad, he, Danny and a henchman find their car broadsided by a Mack truck and then machine-gunned by minions of one of Bart’s clients, who is (not unreasonably) cheesed from having been treated to the unleashed Danny the Dog.

Assuming that his “owner” is dead, Danny makes his way to Sam, who takes him in, patches him up and — with the help of adopted daughter Victoria (Condon) — reaches his human side with silverware, Mozart and ice cream. Once again, the specter of Bride of Frankenstein is evoked when the real world — Bart in a cast and neck brace — intrudes on this idyllic situation. Unfortunately for Bart, Danny no longer wants to hurt anyone, making him a somewhat less-than-spectacular candidate for gladiatorial combat.

The story gets no better, only more preposterous, as it veers between brutal fight scenes and attempts at tender moments while drearily uncovering Danny’s true origins, which are hardly surprising. (I suppose it’s a good thing that Sam finds out who Danny really is, though I would’ve enjoyed seeing the old boy try to secure a passport for Danny the Dog so that he and Victoria could take Danny back to their home in New York.)

None of this keeps the film from being enjoyable — not even the distasteful undercurrent of paternalist racism in the sexless man-child approach to Li’s character. Indeed, the sheer addle-headedness of it all makes the movie more engaging than a less-bizarre narrative might have made it. But the film’s apparent belief that it’s more than a tarted-up action flick is even more ludicrous than the story. Rated R for strong violent content, language and some sexuality/nudity.

– reviewed by Ken Hanke

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About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress since December 2000. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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