Someone needs to get Luc Besson on a psychiatrist's couch and ask what is it with him and feral-type adults who are redeemed by love and/or the power of older mentors. In La Femme Nikita, The Professional and now Unleashed, Besson has concocted some of the most implausible plots imaginable, all involving societal outcasts who redeem themselves by getting in touch with their inner softie, then murdering all the right people.
Not that this hasn't been fun to watch: Nikita and The Professional are high-octane entertainments of the first order, with the latter film introducing the marvelous Jean Reno to an English-speaking audience. But Unleashed has a "been there, done that" feel, as if writer/co-producer Besson has returned to this concept one time too many.
In this case, Danny (Jet Li) has been kept as a trained pet by mob boss Bart (Bob Hoskins, in fine Long Good Friday mode), who has taught him to kill with impunity once his dog collar is removed. One day, however, Danny meets blind piano tuner Sam (Morgan Freeman, investing a ludicrous role with his usual dignity), who takes the fighting machine in after he escapes from Bart's clutches. Sam is living with stepdaughter Victoria (Kerry Conran), a piano prodigy who is studying at a conservatory in Glasgow, Scotland. (Why she couldn't find a good-enough school in the U.S. is just one of the film's many bizarre notes).
As the weeks go by, Danny is humanized by the pair. He learns about ice cream and how to shop for ripe melons, gets his first chaste kiss from Victoria, and grooves on Mozart. But Bart and his minions eventually track Danny down, and the film ends with a gonzo martial-arts blowout.
All you need to know about the surreal nature of this enterprise is that even though Unleashed is set in Scotland, there is not one Scottish accent in the film. Every gangster, every one, speaks with a Cockney twang, and even the minor characters sound as if they've just jetted in from South London. Then again, Besson has never been one for realism-The Professional was set in a New York City from the Fourth Dimension.
Flashily but impersonally directed by Louis Leterrier, Unleashed is of interest primarily because star Jet Li has an appealing screen presence (although his English still seems limited at best). Unless, of course, you're a psychology grad student who is interested in the curious hang-ups of French auteurs.
Retired hit man seeks revenge on Russian mob in an above-average action film. More »
» Blue Sheets
FJI's guide to upcoming movie releases, including films in production and development. Check back weekly for the latest additions.
ORDER A PRINT SUBSCRIPTION
Subscribe to the monthly print edition of Film Journal International and get the full visual impact of this valuable resource for the cinema business.
Learn how to promote your company at the Film Expo Group events: ShowEast, CineEurope, and CineAsia.