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Overall Rating
3.64

Awesome: 19.42%
Worth A Look53.4%
Average: 9.71%
Pretty Bad: 6.8%
Total Crap: 10.68%

9 reviews, 49 user ratings



Unleashed
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by Mel Valentin

"Long on sentimentality, short on action, Li's fans will be disappointed."
3 stars

"Unleashed" (aka "Danny the Dog"), an eccentric, bizarre, ultimately unsatisfying mix of maudlin redemption drama, gritty urban crime actioner, and elaborate martial arts fight sequences, reunites martial arts/action star Jet Li ("Hero," "Fist of Legend," "Once Upon a Time in China") and writer/producer/director Luc Besson, ("The Fifth Element," "The Professional"). Li and Besson first collaborated on "Kiss the Dragon," a mediocre, unoriginal crime/action film with Li's character, falsely accused of murder, on the loose in Paris, fighting the corrupt police to clear his name. "Unleashed" continues a sad trend in Jet Li's English-language film career: weak, underwritten scripts, visceral, kinetic, action scenes, but little else to recommend them.

Content with just writing and producing Unleashed, Besson passed on directing. Instead, Besson gave directing chores to a relatively inexperienced Louis Leterrier (the director on another Besson project The Transporter). Leterrier will follow Unleashed with the sequel to The Transporter, cleverly titled The Transporter 2. While Leterrier nominally handled directing the dramatic scenes, the action scenes were choreographed by martial arts legend, Yuen Wo Ping (best known in the United States for acting as the fight choreographer for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and the Matrix trilogy). The action scenes in Unleashed will likely disappoint Li’s martial arts fans (or fans of martial arts/action films). The actions scenes are fast, loose, and ultra-violent, but far too brief (we have to wait until the middle of the third act before encountering an elaborate fight scene).

Danny (Jet Li) is an enforcer who helps to collect outstanding debts for ‘Uncle’ Bart (Bob Hoskins, credibly thuggish), a petty, F-bomb throwing, criminal who operates out of a dilapidated, dank warehouse space in Glasgow. Bart and his gang make their living from terrorizing the local community, demanding money in exchange for “protection.” Bart, it seems, has raised Danny himself, but not as his son (or for any charitable reason), but as an animal who’ll heed Bart’s violent desires without reservation or doubt. To that end, Danny leads a misshapen, shrunken life, forced to live in a cage, with scraps for food, and a children’s book (and teddy bear) to keep him company. When needed for action, Bart removes Danny’s dog collar. Danny, in Pavlovian mode, reacts violently, thrashing anyone who opposes Bart’s protection policies.

After Bart runs afoul of one intended victim too many (the intended victim reacts by sending his own thugs to eliminate Bart), Danny escapes, dazed. He finds himself in an antique shop, where he earlier encountered a blind piano tuner, Sam (Morgan Freeman, persuasive in a familiar role). Sam takes Danny home with him, nursing Danny back to physical help. Danny, traumatized by years of physical and emotional abuse at Bart’s hands, reacts tentatively, fearfully at first. Sam lives with his stepdaughter, Victoria (Kerry Condon), a promising piano student. Sam and Victoria are both Americans, in Glasgow while Victoria attends a local music school. As Danny is gradually introduced into the wonders of domesticity (e.g., he learns how to cook), he sheds his fears and anxieties, joining Sam and Victoria in a makeshift, semi-functional family.

This long (audiences may find their patience growing thin here) domestic interlude will, of course, be interrupted, violently, by the return of Bart and his thugs. Bart wants Danny back, returned to his role as enforcer. In the action centerpiece, of the film Danny, forced to fight in an illegal underground club, refuses to fight. Attacked, he defends himself. The Mephisto-like master of ceremonies reacts angrily, sending first two additional fighters into the ring against Danny, then arming them with sharp-edged (and blunt-edged) weapons. Leterrier shoots the scene with fast/slow motion and quick cuts, but sensibly shoots in wide-angle, allowing the audience to appreciate Li’s skills as a martial artist and Ping’s as a fight choreographer.

Danny, of course, must choose between two, mutually exclusive ‘families,’ Bart or Sam’s, between “strict father morality,” taken to its logical, violent extreme and “nurturing parent morality,” which promises redemption, affection, and acceptance. Put that way, Danny’s choice will come as no surprise to the audience. What will come as a surprise, at least for Jet Li fans, is Besson’s choice to spend almost half the running time on Danny’s reintegration into civil society (which often veers into mawkish sentimentality). A tighter script would have eliminated or trimmed some of the domestic scenes, or simply added parallel scenes tracking Bart's efforts to find Danny and thus increasing the tension inherent in Danny's predicament.

Worse, Leterrier and his cinematographer's (Pierre Morel) decision to use a neutral, desaturated color palette (an idea whose time has come and passed) and photograph the indoor scenes with minimal lighting (and maximum shadows), apparently with Besson's approval or encouragement, serves to undermine Yuen Wo Ping’s action choreography. Note to Leterrier (and presumably, to Besson), underlighting action scenes make them difficult, if not impossible, for an audience to follow. Underlighting actions scenes might make sense in hiding a specific performer’s limitations, but not when you have a performer of Li’s obvious capabilities and experience.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=11680&reviewer=402
originally posted: 05/22/05 12:53:36
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 SXSW Film Festival. For more in the 2005 South By Southwest Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

7/02/09 Josie Cotton is a goddess Jet Li shows amazing talent as both a fighter and an actor 5 stars
11/01/08 ldavies One of my favorite Jet Li performances 4 stars
8/27/08 Shaun Wallner Awesome storyline! 5 stars
8/15/08 kariboo Jet Li did a wonderful job acting in this movie. He outshined even Morgan Freeman. 5 stars
6/20/08 PAUL SHORTT AN IRRITATING EXCUSE TO GLORIFY SENSELESS SLAUGHTER 1 stars
2/03/07 AJ Muller Good story, great acting, kickass fights. Jet's best USA flick and #2 after Fist of Legend. 5 stars
10/16/06 anitamich Loved it, loved the acting........... I thought the violence and brutality was too heavy 4 stars
9/08/06 drydock54321 you gotta see him fight 4 stars
8/28/06 Kim Anderson Very Good Movie Action 4 stars
4/21/06 Movie Loon I couldn't disagree more with Paul Bryant's Review. I thought unleashed was a good movie 4 stars
4/02/06 Peter De La Rosa Jet can act.Great Cast.Action.Location.Li's best yet. 5 stars
3/17/06 chris f fantastic movie one of the best action movies of all time 5 stars
1/01/06 metalhead I thought it was a great film, I don't know why everyone hates it... 5 stars
12/23/05 Abraham Lincoln Great stuff. I enjoyed the movie, I'm no movie critic, just enjoyed it. :) 5 stars
12/12/05 gray why did this do so poorly? 4 stars
12/05/05 od no more screenplays for Besson to write 1 stars
11/28/05 ELI When Jet Li is the best actor in a movie that's a bad sign. Didn't know Morgan could SUCK 1 stars
11/25/05 CONSTANTINE AWSOME... Totally Bad-ASS Kung-Fu Fightin' Jet Li Film EVER! 5 stars
10/22/05 othree Great cast, action, simple movie that works, score could have been better 4 stars
10/13/05 John It has some nice moments and a good cast but it turns into predicatble fluff 3 stars
10/11/05 CONSTANTINE AWESOME, totally, totally AWESOME... BEST JET LI MOVIE EVER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 5 stars
9/04/05 Graham All the entertainment comes from how ridiculous the plot is and wondering how they dreamtit 1 stars
8/27/05 Rever_Bear-Trap BEST JET LI FILM TO DATE! 5 stars
8/11/05 ES A decent movie, you new going in it would be terrible of good, happy to say its a positive 4 stars
7/25/05 Eric Rollins Definitely delivers, no more implausable than the typical martial arts film. 3 stars
6/21/05 Brock Stewart good surprised. The best jet li film 4 stars
6/08/05 Agent Sands Typical Luc Besson fluff, with a wee bit more depth than usual, or ever. 4 stars
6/04/05 Hack-SAW ONE OF THE BEST ACTION FILMS OF 2005... A JET LI CLASSIC!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 5 stars
6/03/05 Christy Schultz Gotta love Jet 4 stars
6/03/05 deadwiz One of Jet Li's best films. 4 stars
5/30/05 Joses Sweet ass-kickery. Doesn't need to be seen in theaters, though. 4 stars
5/26/05 ^ZuLu^ Jet Li's by no means a good actor. Others do good. Fighting is like in other movies. 3 stars
5/26/05 Cobretti Laughably bad sentimentality bookended by a ludicrous action story. Someone stop Besson. 2 stars
5/25/05 u4ea666 Awesome, love every jet li movie! 4 stars
5/23/05 Shao Fu Tzer People who didn't like this need mental help. 5 stars
5/19/05 jeff fun movie, good acting. 5 stars
5/18/05 jcjs fun, no brainer, excellent acting Bob, Morgan 4 stars
5/17/05 KingNeutron Liked it, but the ending was a bit strange. 3 stars
5/17/05 Captain Highcrime Yeah, pure popcorn storyline but Jet Li is absolutely adorable 4 stars
5/16/05 Bobbi good story, excellant acting, but paint by numbers plot, but somewhat enjoyable anyway 4 stars
5/15/05 average dude Chris Parry won't suspend his disbelief for action movies with Asian stars. 4 stars
5/15/05 Alberto Very kool, best Jet Li film ever! 5 stars
5/14/05 REDHT Jet Li kicks ass! 4 stars
5/14/05 Jet Li you sucks 5 stars
5/10/05 Josh You all mut be joking--or else you're industry shils. This sucked ass!! 1 stars
5/09/05 Andy Luca It is so cool, everyone should see it 5 stars
5/09/05 Julie Gastonar It is awesome, and show another aspect of martial art 5 stars
5/08/05 STAR LCGAP Unleashed is spectacular 5 stars
5/08/05 David Smith A little be cheesy, But it is a very good one. Li aimed for young audience to teach a lson 5 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  13-May-2005 (R)
  DVD: 11-Oct-2005

UK
  N/A

Australia
  18-Aug-2005




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