(aka Danny the Dog, Louis Leterrier, USA, 2005)


While Jackie Chan sticks to his action-comedy formula and Stephen Chow aims for surrealist mayhem in Kung Fu Hustle (2004), another Hong Kong star, Jet Li, takes an odd route to American fame in Unleashed.

Danny (Li) has, for the better part of his life, been treated as little more than an animal (hence the American release title Danny the Dog) by the brutal gangster Bart (Bob Hoskins). He has been trained to go berserk whenever he is literally unleashed, in order to kill Bart's enemies. Danny is in fact so removed from normal life that he feels no remorse over the violence he inflicts.

That is, until he encounters the blind Sam (Morgan Freeman) and his charming daughter, Victoria (Kerry Condon). This remarkably tolerant pair take a nurturing, no-questions-asked approach to Danny. They take him in and introduce him to emotions like love and loyalty, as well as a moral conscience.

Director Louis Leterrier (The Transporter [2002] and its forthcoming sequel) is the son of François Leterrier, who became a filmmaker after starring in Robert Bresson's classic prison drama, A Man Escaped (1956). Danny is also a man escaped, but his experience of freedom conveys no especially uplifting feeling. The film is content to leave his story at an elementary, Bad Boy Bubby (1994) level – an innocent struggling to make sense of the ways of a big world.

Producer-writer Luc Besson (Nikita, 1990) is the real auteur of this film. He oversees the global mix which has become his trademark: sticky American sentiment, tough British humour, moody French atmospherics, frenetic Asian action. Unfortunately, his patchwork plots also come freighted with an alarmingly high dose of shaky dramatic contrivance – such as the ability of Sam to wander in, at will, to the criminal's lair in order to tune a room full of pianos.

Unleashed has some enjoyable moments, and the actors – who cover the full range from amateur-theatre histrionics to underplayed poignancy – are fun to watch. But the film is an unsatisfying mishmash that works neither as straight drama nor as action flick.

MORE Besson: Joan of Arc, Taxi, Léon: The Professional, The Fifth Element

© Adrian Martin August 2005

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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