Luc Besson seems to be doing little else these days but tapping out these lightweight action thrillers that seem to make little impact. Which is a shame because the man used to make films like Nikita and Leon, whose influence continues to stretch across action cinema and television to this day. And who can forget Gary Oldman in one of his best roles ever? No one before or since has shouted "EVVVVERRRYYYONNNNNNE" better. Fact!

It is hard not to compare Unleashed to Leon. While the director's baton has been passed to Louis Leterrier, who will be helming Besson's next venture, Transporter 2, this script has pretty much the same structure. A man raised for violence is offered salvation, but has to do violent things to put his past behind him. While Leon managed to be both effortlessly touching and exciting, Unleashed stumbles badly with the touching bits.

It is all about Danny (Jet Li), fighting for his master Bart (Bob Hoskins) and then fighting against him, choreographed by the great Yuen Wo Ping. Li also gives what is probably his finest English language performance yet. Childlike and docile until released from his dog-like collar, he turns into something rabid, biting, punching, kicking and poking at whatever comes near him. He never overacts in either aspect, switching from ferocious terror to wide-eyed innocence instantly and believably.

When Danny finds solace with a blind piano tuner (Morgan Freeman) and his daughter, the film swops genres and grinds to a sudden halt. All of a sudden we are talking about rediscovery and the nicer things in life, like pianos and ice cream!

For some reason the film is set in Glasgow, but it is a Glasgow populated entirely by cockney gangsters and two Yanks. Hoskins struggles with his character, calling everyone wankers and/or tossers. The aforementioned wankers and tossers call everyone else wankers and tossers, bringing back that age of British cinema when every second film was a poor Lock, Stock rip off. Tossers!

Things pick up towards the end when the punching, jumping and kicking returns to centre stage, including the best fight in a toilet you will ever see. But then again Besson shies away from going the distance and offers an incredibly bland pay off. Unlike its title, it seems to be content trotting along and thinking about ice cream when it should be punching some guy in the throat who is holding a wooden club with nails sticking out of it.

Reviewed on: 20 Aug 2005
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A Jet Li martial arts extravaganza, with sensitive side issues and Bob Hoskins in bully mode.
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Read more Unleashed reviews:

Nick Jones ****
Gator MacReady ***
Anton Bitel *1/2

Director: Louis Leterrier

Writer: Luc Besson

Starring: Jet Li, Morgan Freeman, Bob Hoskins, Kerry Condon, Vincent Regan, Dylan Brown, Tamer Hassan, Michael Jenn, Phyllida Law, Carole Ann Wilson, Michael Ian Lambert, Jaclyn Lee

Year: 2004

Runtime: 102 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: France/UK/US


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