"Fighting Like a Dog to Find His Family"
What You Need To Know:
Frankly, the plot turns and dialogue in UNLEASHED are senseless. The movie’s idea to sandwich kung-fu death matches with artificial family drama is strange enough, but then to have Danny’s character raised as a dog puts the story way over the top. Further, the fight scenes are bloody and there is a lot of extremely coarse language, as well as some brief female nudity.
(B, C, LLL, VVV, SS, NNN, A, D, M) Moral worldview in which family and love conquer abject evil, with a family that prays before meals and thanks God; 36 obscenities, many of them “f” words, and three profanities; many violent kung-fu-style fights including a long chase sequence, heads rapped against floor, men beaten with clubs, men shot dead, people fight to death for sport, car crashes, and mother shot dead in front of child; man almost fornicates twice but is interrupted, and there is some brief off-color sexual discussion; brief upper female nudity before fornication, plus brief full frontal nudity in shower; alcohol; smoking; and, quasi-slave relationship, unnatural cruelty and revenge rebuked.
UNLEASHED is a fluffy moral melodrama that takes place in a violent world of shootings and kung-fu fights. Jet Li plays Danny, an orphan who was raised by an evil loan shark. The loan shark, Bob Hoskins, trains Danny to act like a dog. He can’t speak or relate to other people, and he attacks on command. Danny is such an effective weapon that he is enlisted to participate in sporting matches where contestants fight to their death. These illegal matches yield big payouts for the loan shark.
As Danny ages, he develops a strong curiosity about the world outside his cage, and by chance meets a blind piano tuner, Sam, played by Morgan Freeman. Sam takes Danny into his home, and Sam and his daughter Victoria teach Danny what it truly means to be human, including important lessons on family and devotion. Eventually, of course, the loan shark comes looking for Danny, and a battle emerges between Sam’s familial love and the loan shark’s brute force.
Frankly, the plot turns and dialogue in UNLEASHED are senseless. The movie is sentimental beyond all rational boundaries – few men, for instance, would bring a bleeding street fighter, who they found in the basement of an antiques store, home for their teenaged daughters to nurse. The movie’s idea to sandwich kung-fu death matches with ersatz family drama is strange enough, but then to have Danny’s character raised as a dog puts the story way over the top. If the dog collar is symbolic, then it is too labored and doesn’t flow with the rest of the story. If the dog collar is not symbolic but just an attempt at making an original story, then it serves little purpose and is a shrill attention-getter.
The fight scenes are bloody and intense but more realistic than the fantastical kung-fu sequences in a movie like KILL BILL. What’s most bothersome in the movie is Bob Hoskins’s character, who seems purely evil. He murders anyone who crosses his path, keeps Danny in a cage, engages in humiliating sex with women, speaks coarsely, and indulges in revenge. Danny’s actions provide an effective counter to this evil, which exposes the loan shark as pathetic and broken.
With some exciting fight sequences and a warmly sentimental conclusion, UNLEASHED is not without some merits. Unnatural storytelling, over-the-top violence and brief female nudity will make it highly unattractive to a general audience, however.