Unleashed was written and directed by Frenchman, set in Glasgow, and stars among others, an American, a Chinese, and a Brit. Needless to say, it is not quite like most other action movies. And this is a good thing. Free of many of the problems of American action movies, director Louis Leterrier and screenwriter Luc Besson (Taxi, The Transporter) are able to play with the formula. Their results are a bit spotty, especially in terms of plot, but they do have some bone-crunching action sequences (choreographed of course, by Yuen Wo Ping, Kung Fu Hustle, Kill Bill Vol. 2). The premise is patently absurd - Bart (Bob Hoskins, Beyond the Sea, Vanity Fair), an underground crime boss, trained Danny (Jet Li, Cradle 2 the Grave, Hero) into his personal attack dog. Danny wears a collar, and every time the collar is removed his primary instinct is to attack and kill. He rarely speaks, and Bart and his crew treat him like dirt. He dresses in rags, lives in a cage, and lives on scraps.

Li is probably the best technical martial artist in Hollywood. He has tremendous dexterity and control, but all too often filmmakers cut up his scenes like crazy, given viewers a very stilted and choppy view of his martial arts. Leterrier is smarter than that. He pans out and cuts infrequently, allowing uninterrupted takes where people can awe at Li's precision and skill. Most of the martial arts tend less towards the graceful and more towards the effective - it is brief and brutal, and it takes somebody like Li to make it come across as believable. Li's primary problem is his acting ability. Hong Kong movies are not exactly a training ground for future actors. His American films and performances have tended towards the horrible. He is still not great here, but gives a decent performance only because Danny has very little social skills. Any time Li is required to project some of the softer emotions late into the film, he falters.

Besson throws everybody for a loop in the second half of Unleashed. Danny, thinking Bart is dead, manages to escape and finds his way to Sam (Morgan Freeman, Million Dollar Baby, The Big Bounce), a blind piano tuner. He is living in Glasgow while his stepdaughter Victoria (Kerry Condon, Intermission, Ned Kelly) attends a prestigious piano school. The sound of the piano soothes Danny's inner beast, and he soon finds himself embedded in their family. Victoria and Sam gradually lure Danny out of his shell, teaching him how to play the piano, eat soup with a spoon, taking him to buy groceries, giving him ice cream; just telling him how to live like a normal person. Danny's one link to the past is his collar, which he refuses to remove because he is afraid he will attack his new friends. So wait, this is a Jet Li movie and people get to watch him eat ice cream and get brain freeze? Apparently.

But life is not easy, and it turns out Bart is alive. He finds Danny and forces him to work for him again, setting up some more vicious fight scenes (including a great one cramped within the confines of a small bathroom). Danny, who now has a taste of freedom, must get his life in order. The film is an interesting experiment, but the entire second act where Danny learns to live normally comes off as overly sentimental at times. Also, this newfound humanity does not bring a sense of urgency or vitality to the fight scenes at the end; they just feel like fight scenes (albeit better choreographed and easier to see). In the end, most people will not care, since there are a decent number of fight scenes. Yes, everything is a bit ridiculous, but this isn't a thinking man's film.

Haro Rates It: Okay.
1 hour, 43 minutes, Rated R for strong violent content, language, and some sexuality/nudity.

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