Remember how much I hated "Forbidden Kingdom?" Well, unleashed isn't quite that bad, but it sucks very, very much.
I wasn't expecting the world. I don't have unreasonable standards for action films. But if you, as a director, try to introduce "plot" to an action film, you have to be careful not to screw up the action. "Unleashed" is a perfect example of exactly what not to do.
If I sound vitriolic, it's because I've now watched two terrible movies with Morgan Freeman (see also "Maiden Heist," which might be the worst movie-to-talent ratio ever) and Jet Li (see also "Forbidden Kingdom," previously reviewed for the blog). I don't understand why Freeman is accepting stupid roles. There's nothing artistic, challenging, or otherwise worthy of an actor of his caliber in those two movies. And on a similar vein, Jet Li needs to focus on movies that showcase his obvious martial arts talent.
"Unleashed" is the story of a young man ("Danny," played by Jet Li) trained as a loan-shark's muscle. He was raised just like a pitbull to fight visciously every time his keeper (the loan-shark) removes his dog collar (some sort of Pavlovian response, I guess). As you would guess, eventually Danny's life changes dramatically when his keeper loses track of him and Danny meets Sam (played by Freeman), a blind, non-judgmental piano tuner with a bizarre story and an even more bizarre amount of patience and empathy towards Danny.
Danny moves in with Sam and Sam's sort-of-daughter Victoria, and his lifestyle changes dramatically. He is loved, cared-for, and he learns about simple joys and finally has some childhood experiences. He has a total change of heart and eschews all of his prior violent life.
And then, as you would expect, the keeper comes back in his life, and puts pressure on him to return to work.
So here's where I see the breakdown: the story arc where Danny begins to integrate into Sam's family is REALLY slow. It's painfully dull, not well acted, and the exposition of Danny's sorted life is very choppy and confusing. And, there's a good 30 minutes where nobody is getting their butts kicked. It goes without saying, doesn't it, that Jet Li's movies should not go more than about three or four minutes without some good violence. What I'm saying is that the middle is really slow.
And the violence, when it was there, seemed incredibly silly and poorly choreographed. It's hard for me to describe, but, if I had to, it would simply be to say that the violence seemed fake. Absolutely fake. Sub par. Like a "play fight."
The worst part of the movie was yet to come. The denouement was very unfulfilling. It was cliche, but yet the story somehow failed to follow any of the formats generally recognized as being successful. I don't want to spoil it too much, but it made no sense to me that the keeper didn't go after Sam or Victoria. It really felt flat and lame.
Jason felt really bad about subjecting me to "Yol" and "Brazil" (although I enjoyed both films), so he picked a film that he thought would actually entertain us. Not so much. Yes, other, more educated and respected critics disagree with me, but I just don't see how they liked this film.