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"Unleashed"

Directed by Louis Leterrier.
Written by Luc Besson.
Starring Jet Li, Morgan Freeman, Kerry Condon and Bob Hoskins.
Release Year:  2005
Review Date:  5/23/05

Folks-- 

So, I'm pretty sure that every American film that Jet Li has made has sucked:

  • "Lethal Weapon 4": officially ended the run of Gibson/Glover

  • "Romeo Must Die":  officially started the Gang-Fu, Ghetto-Socky, Chop-Funk or whatever you want to call it Era, featuring blacks and Asians in movies chock-full of action and hip-hop

  • "The One":  horrific

  • "Kiss of the Dragon":  save for an awesome sequence near the end, also dogshit

  • "Cradle 2 the Grave":  see above

Now, yes, "Hero" did appear during this time but it was not an American production.  So, Jet was oh-for-everything and when I first saw the trailer for "Unleashed", I was immediately dismissive.  "That'll be dogshit," I whispered to no one in particular.

Despite the Jet's U.S. pedigree thus far, I must say that "Unleashed" is nothing short of a great film.  Because it was written by Luc Besson, the French mastermind behind "La Femme Nikita", "The Professional" and "The Fifth Element" (bear with me here), I had to give it more respect than normal...and, with a fantastic mix of action and--sacre bleu!--acting by the Jet, "Unleashed" is new ground for Jet as he finds a comfortable middle ground in his middle age (he's 42!).

This go-round Jet plays Danny, a modern-day slave of a ruthless English repo man named Bart (Bob Hoskins) that wears a collar around his neck and lives in a steel cage.  You see, after his mother disappeared, Danny was, ahem, "placed" in Bart's custody and as such, he is committed to doing Bart's bidding, normally in the form of beating the hell out of anyone that Bart sicks him on in order to retrieve cash owed to the house.  After Bart is assaulted and left for dead, Danny is forced to find a new home in England...and he finds it in the form of a blind piano man named Sam (Morgan Freeman) and his adopted daughter Veronica (Kerry Condon).  Danny undergoes a major transformation...just in time to face the resurfacing of Bart, who didn't die in that car accident after all.

Time and again Besson's script rips off the stylings of "The Professional", but this is okay since at least he's ripping off his own stuff.  From the shy, socially inept, killer instincts of the protagonists in both films to the change in pace (from bloody fight sequences to shots of tranquility as the leads and their small white girl advisors get to know each other), "Unleashed" even follows a somewhat similar story arc with its more-than-10-year-old predecessor.  But, it is shocking to watch Li actually do well during these sequences; the physical parts of what make his character so funny yet so tragic make this easily Jet's best U.S. work yet.  It helps to be working with the best of the best, and no one does soak-up-the-scene work better than Freeman.  Really, even in this kind of a film, you just love watching him virtually saunter from place to place in the movie.  Hoskins, as funny as it sounds, really was born to play a bastard lout like Bart--from the hookers to the way he treats Danny to the way he grovels as he tries to win Danny back.  Hoskins looks like he is having fun since he doesn't normally get parts like this, and it makes "Unleashed" that much better to watch him get his comeuppance.

Best of all, though, is that "Unleashed" is simply a great-looking film.  Louis Leterrier, who directed "Unleashed" and is the director of record for Besson's upcoming sequel, "The Transporter 2", does great work here in not only the vivid fight sequences--none of which are completely absorbing, but they do the job nevertheless--but also the more tender moments, be it camera angles or the choice to sometimes frame a shot with just someone eyes; you name it.  The English scenery is lush (just ASSUMING that it is England) and it is cool watching Danny go from hide-and-seek small man-child to the guy that is dropping gangs of men left and right late in the film.

"Unleashed" is a fun film, it really is.  Not out-of-the-park awesome, mind you, but a very solid flick.  Now, here's to hoping that the Jet can put some hits together before his physical gifts go to waste...

Rating:  $9.50 Show

 

Comments?  Drop me a line at justin@bellviewmovies.com.

 

Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too bad...man, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/bellviewmovies.com except where noted
1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09