Film Review: Unleashed

Wonderfully entertaining comedy about two house pets who find themselves trapped in the bodies of grown men and their relationship with their owner who thinks they are her new suitors.
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Finn Taylor’s Unleashed is one of the most charming, delightful and hilarious comedies this reviewer has seen in a long, long time. Here’s the tale: The dejected and self-doubting Emma (Kate Micucci), badly betrayed by her sleazy boyfriend (Josh Brener), finds solace—and it’s her only comfort—in the company of her beloved pets, her cat Ajax and dog Summit. They do everything together, three wonderful co-dependents. But thanks to a freak cosmic event, the furry quadrupeds who have slipped out the door are transformed into two male bipeds, Diego (Justin Chatwin) and Sam (Steve Howey).

Of course, they are not grown men at all but rather house pets mistakenly trapped in adult male bodies (shades of Big) and desperate to return to their owner, who is equally determined to get them back. Instead, she encounters Diego and Sam and finds herself engaged in, shall we say, very strange relationships with each shape-shifter, who is working really hard to appear human—from learning the art of dressing to dealing with money to mastering the more civilized approach to bathroom activities—and never fully grasping any of it. Without too much provocation, they revert to their truer natures.

Diego, who can’t help slinking around (hey, it’s in his feline DNA), finds himself on a fashion runway and in short order becomes an international modeling star, hissing away. Similarly, when Sam sights a group of men playing with a Frisbee on the beach, he goes out of little his dog mind and bounds across the sand, leaping into the air and clenching the Frisbee between his teeth before trotting off (Frisbee in mouth), feeling useful and satisfied. Thereafter he serves as the guys’ personal sports coach, among other jack-of-all-trade freelance gigs he manages to land. Everyone loves him. He is so genial and obliging.

But the most laugh-out-loud funny scenes are between Emma and the two men (usually individually, but sometimes all three together), whom she believes are flirting with her, though their seduction techniques—or what she interprets as such—are new to her. Diego kneads her neck with rapid pawing motions and then falls asleep on top of her pillow, while Sam sniffs around, licks her face and curls up at the foot of her bed.  Micucci’s expressions are peerless.

Yes, it’s a slight premise and essentially a one-joke script, giving the two male stars a platform to demonstrate extraordinary physical comedy—and do they ever. Chatwin and Howey are clearly enjoying themselves and playing off each other as interspecies competitors who are basically on the same side. (They have been longtime colleagues on Showtime’s “Shameless.”)

All the performances are fun to watch, including Sean Astin as a klutzy good-guy geek who befriends Emma; Hana Mae Lee as her coolly composed co-worker in the app-design business; and Brener, the ex-boyfriend, who gets his much-deserved comeuppance with a full-blown allergy attack at the perfect self-destructing moment.

Unleashed is a fairytale with innocence in spades that’s enchanting all by itself. But compared with the disingenuous innocence we see portrayed in many films, its freshness is amplified exponentially. Check out the three post-menopausal women dancing on the beach with no credible reason to do so in A Year by the Sea, which regrettably will be released soon.

Unleashed transcends plausibility issues. It’s not realistic at all. It’s truthful on a far deeper level and mighty entertaining to boot.

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