Sunday, August 8, 2010

Danny the Drama

by Jason Pyles

Sure. Viewer expectations can make or break a movie.

Case in point: Ang Lee’s “Hulk” (2003). If we all weren’t expecting to see an action-packed superhero movie, it would have been fine; instead, it was an underrated, brooding character conflict whose subject also happened to transform into a bouncy green cartoon.

Minor spoiler follow for “Unleashed.”

So, in his post below, where Andy reasonably expected the Jet Li vehicle “Unleashed” (aka “Danny the Dog”) to be a martial arts film, I can see why he would be disgruntled by the lengthy, sentimental second act.

Indeed, this film is actually a drama masquerading as a martial arts action flick. The first act delivers Jet Li doing what he does best, as does the third act, to some extent. But the second act shifts from martial arts into drama, and it’s a cold shower in terms of pacing.

So I guess that’s problematic. I like the film, but since we’re on the subject of the film’s imperfections, I’ll list my criticisms first:

My biggest complaint is the impossibly inconsistent character of Danny. Jet Li’s dramatic performance is convincing enough, but the actual character himself could not exist as he is portrayed. I have lengthy arguments for this, but I’ll try to briefly describe a couple of instances below:

For example, his vocabulary and communication skills — not to mention his comprehension skills — vary drastically depending on what the plot requires.

And the collar prop does not function or affect Danny the same way during the course of the movie, either. (It was intended that Danny would change, but his behaviors associated with the collar vary in such a way that is inconsistent with the expected arc.)

Uncle Bart can touch the collar anytime without Danny flinching, but no one else can. Before Uncle Bart can remove the collar, at one point, Bart’s enemies get the upper hand and Danny seems to be oblivious to his caretaker’s pleas for help. Yet others can speak to him while he’s wearing the collar, and he understands them. Oh, and later we learn that Danny is completely aware of the brawl in the grocery store.

This really is a big deal because Danny’s collar is the linch pin of this film’s premise.

So, while this film is a great idea — as an action movie or a drama — its main character is poorly conceived and the premise is broken.

Speaking to Andy’s critique of the martial arts sequences, I see his point there, too. While some interactions really seem brutal — as in, the actors actually hit one another — most of the time, it looks like a dress rehearsal. Andy calls it “play fighting.”

But overall, I still enjoyed the film — perhaps because Andy primed my expectations. I was prepared and therefore more willing to slow down for the second act of the movie. And though I vowed to try to defend this film against Andy’s critique below, I’m having trouble articulating the undeserved affection I feel toward it. But I think it’s worth the time, and it’s far more tolerable than “The Forbidden Kingdom.”

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