Partially shot in Scotland with an Asian star, a French helmer and an Anglo-American supporting cast, Unleashed looks a right mongrel. Yet this Luc Besson production - originally known as Danny The Dog - deserves a pat for its almost wilful perversity. The action, as you would expect from Matrix master Yuen Woo-Ping, is top-drawer throughout, Massive Attack supply a pulsating score, while the contrast between Hoskins and Freeman's acting styles - British bulldog versus cool American cat - is fascinating to watch. At its heart, though, is Jet Li, the Hero star giving a surprisingly subtle and touching performance... when he's not breaking bones and crunching heads, obviously.
The problem here, at least for Li's army of carnage-craving fans, is this stubborn pup spends an awful lot of screen time not doing what we want him to. Yes, director Louis Leterrier (real name, honest) opens with a fast-and-furious intro that establishes Li's near-comatose Danny as a merciless enforcer the moment he's off his psychological leash. But around the 40-minute mark he pauses the punch-ups for an extended bout of sentimental bilge that finds Li taught to be human again by Freeman's avuncular ex-pat and his piano protégé stepdaughter (Kerry Condon).
How dire is this? Here's a clue: you're actually grateful when Hoskins decides to milk Li's talents in a Thunderdome-style, kill-or-be-killed cockfight. Barking and fuming like Harold Shand's madder twin, our Bob is so OTT he's virtually DOA. But after all that mawkish crud with the Freeman family, you're thankful for something - anything - that can drag this picture out of the doghouse.
Mercifully it does, resulting in a bruising race to the finish that sees Danny battle a legion of thugs through Glasgow's tenements and, in one thrillingly claustrophobic sequence, go head-to-slaphead against a bald ninja inside a toilet cubicle. It's moments like these that send you out with your tail wagging and turn a movie that should by rights have been a dog's dinner into the dog's bollocks.
Sometimes brilliant, often terrible, but always interesting, Unleashed is Jet Li's most watchable English-language vehicle to date.
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