Dir: Louis LeterrierFr-UK. 2005. 103mins.
The latest action vehicleto roar off the assembly line at Luc Besson's EuropaCorp, Unleashed -known in France as Danny The Dog - is a wonky mixture of bone-crunchingviolence and mawkish sentiment. It casts martial arts star Jet Li as asub-human fighting machine who finds that music hath charms to soothe hissavage breast.
Once again producing andwriting, but leaving the chore of directing to former assistant LouisLeterrier, Besson has provided another predictable, by-the-numbers plot thatnaturally gives pride of place to the fight scenes staged with predictablyfurious mastery by Yuen-Wo Ping.
Li co-stars with mainstreamdramatic heavyweights Bob Hoskins and Morgan Freeman, who are obviously meantto provide the film with a crossover appeal, though it is unlikely to attackother than the usual youth audiences which are Besson's and Li's bread andbutter.
The film has played stronglyin France where the marquee bonding of Besson and Li is enough to generate boxoffice; it opens in the US in May and the UK in June among others.
In the first and finalsections of the film, Li is on familiar kung fu territory as Danny, a young manwith no memories who has been literally groomed from traumatised childhood as ahuman attack dog by the vituperative Bart (Hoskins), who only has to remove hiscollar to stick him on recalcitrant underworld adversaries. The hood also findsextra sources of easy revenue by enrolling him in a no-holds-barred fight club.
But when his collar is on,Danny is puppy-dog harmless, only drawn out of his catatonic indifference by apicture of a piano in a kindergarten primer he pores over in his cage.
Surviving a ganglandreckoning against Bart, Danny is badly hurt and taken in by the blind, kindly Sam(Freeman) who treats him like his a son. Here the film goes into a long sappyinterlude in which the grateful, monosyllabic Danny begins to get back intotouch with his long-suppressed humanity and, in learning to play the piano, tobe troubled by subconscious memories of his murdered mother.
There are also thebeginnings of a platonic idyll with his teen stepdaughter Victoria (Condon),which Besson keeps short, surely knowing that audiences will be champing at thebit to get back to the mayhem.
And mayhem he delivers, asBart (in a neat visual touch, now fitted with a neck brace) turns up again toreclaim Danny and, in the film's best action scene, forces him back to thefight club where he refuse to do battle until his survival instincts kick in.
Then comes the long,drawn-out climactic showdown as Danny eliminates a horde of Bart's underlingson rooftops, courtyard, stairwells and flats of a Glasgow tenement block, whileSam and Victoria huddle in a closet out of harm's way.
Hoskins fits easily and effectivelyinto the story and setting as a vicious Glaswegian racketeer, but Freeman isdefinitely a fish out of water - if a warm and easily ingratiating one - as ablind American piano-tuner grooming a concert soloist (Condon).
Tech credits are all strongper Besson's usual standards with Pierre Morel's lensing vividly capturing thegrittier side of Glasgow and Nicolas Trembasiewicz's editing adding punch tothe frenzied action choreography. Massive Attack provide an aptly pulsatingscore.
Prod cos: EuropaCorp, Danny The Dog Prod, TF1 Films
Int'l sales: EuropaCorp
Fr dist: EuropaCorp Dist
Exec prods: Steven Chasman,Bernard Grenet
Prods: Pierre Ange Le Pogam, LucBesson
Scr: Luc Besson, Robert MarkKamen
Cine: Pierre Morel
Ed: Nicolas Trembasiewicz
Mus: Massive Attack
Action chore: Yuen Wo-Ping
Main cast: Jet Li, Bob Hoskins,Morgan Freeman, Kerry Condon