Scripted by Luc Besson and originally titled Danny The Dog, Unleashed is a fascinating attempt to fuse hardcore action and compassionate drama. It doesn't work, but you have to admire the ambition. Bloody mayhem meets family bonding in the story of Danny (Jet Li), an abandoned kung fu prodigy adopted as an infant by debt collector Bart (Bob Hoskins) and trained to act as a human Rottweiler. If a debtor won't pay, Danny's collar comes off and all hell breaks loose.
An innocent killing machine, Danny has no inkling of life outside his cage until he meets Sam (Morgan Freeman), a blind piano tuner. Escaping his master, Danny goes to live with Sam, and soon he's bonding with his kooky daughter (Kerry Condon). But Bart is still out there, and he wants his doggie back.
"LI BRILLIANTLY NAILS DANNY'S VULNERABILITY"
There's a lot to enjoy in Unleashed. The performances are better than we're used to from chopsocky cinema: Li, working with little dialogue, brilliantly nails Danny's combination of ferocity and vulnerability, and Condon is charmingly awkward as his muse. Best of all is Hoskins, gleefully perverting his furious cockney persona. Only Freeman falls flat - the angelic wisdom routine is getting awfully familiar.
Louis Leterrier, the man responsible for 2002's screamingly stupid thriller The Transporter, shoots his story in stylish, muted greys. The fights (choreographed by Matrix supremo Yuen Woo Ping) are inventively brutal. But the action template, which requires scraps of escalating brutality and sadism, doesn't sit well with the film's gooey mid-section. It's like watching two films at once.