Bart (Bob Hoskins) is a hot-tempered Glasgow mobster with a lot of debts to collect and a multitude of scores to settle. Being a man of rather diminutive stature (not unlike that of Danny DeVito), Bart poses virtually zero threat to those who owe him money. So he relies on his unwitting enforcer, Danny (Jet Li), on whom he has held a literal chokehold since childhood. "Uncle" Bart has held Danny as a prisoner and trained him to attack on command with the passion of a bag full of bobcats. Danny wears a collar that acts almost as an "on off" switch. While wearing the collar, Danny is as soft and mellow as a Mrs. Beasley doll. But when the collar is removed, Danny becomes a twisting, contorting, whirling-dervish, complete with 12-foot high leaps and wall-walks that would put Lionel Richie to shame.

Eventually separated from his "master", Danny meets up with Sam (Morgan Freeman), a blind piano tuner who not only teaches Danny what it is like to be a real human, but also begins to delve into Danny's psyche to examine his bloody, violent past.

Unleashed is really a tale of three separate movies. As an all-out, action-packed, no-holds-barred martial arts flick, it brings the house down with its incredible fight choreography and action sequences. We've mostly seen it all before, but Li and writer/producer Luc Besson, under the direction of Louis Leterrier, do manage to introduce some new and innovative techniques. As an emotional drama, Unleashed falls way short with its contrived sentiment and questionable acting. As for the "action/adventure movie with a brain" that it's striving to be, the filmmakers are never able to successfully meld the two hemispheres together. I kept finding myself wanting it to be one or the other. Rather than periodically peppering the plot with bouts of fists-of-fury, Besson and Leterrier sandwich an overly long and schmaltzy tale about how an abused "dog boy" wishes to be left alone to play his piano, between bookends of breathtaking martial arts action. I could just feel the martial arts purists groaning with impatience during the film's middle section. {googleads}

Morgan Freeman gives an admirable performance, however nothing more than what we've come to expect from him. His soft-spoken Sam brings his stepdaughter (Kerry Condon) to Glasgow to attend music school. After her schooling is complete, they are to return to New York and offer to take Danny with them. But Uncle Bart has other plans for Danny.

Bob Hoskins steals the show as Bart. His almost over-the-top performance makes us laugh in all the right moments, yet, when he's on the receiving end of a Beijing pummeling, we savor each and every blow. With his British accent and more lives than a cat, he harkens thoughts of "it's only a flesh wound."

Jet Li is not an actor despite the more than 30 films to his credit. But here he's not meant to act... he's meant to break bones. His fight sequences are wickedly violent and despite the fact that many of his moves are wire-aided, we never really lose a sense of reality, unless you include the fact that enemies with broken necks, arms and legs continue to fight as if multi-jointed bones aren't a hindrance.

Leterrier's camera work deserves mention here. He has an interesting way of framing shots, and his creative transitions mimic those of David Fincher. His sense of scale is evident, as the inner mechanics of the piano become a playground for the camera lens.

The film's premise is actually quite interesting, and its message that violence is not the only answer - is somewhat unique to a lot of today's martial arts flicks. But I can't figure out how it ever made it to the big screen. I'm sure the studio suits had to be forcefully convinced to refrain from demanding that the majority of the film's runtime be filled with wall-to-wall action. Perhaps the execs should have held their ground, because Unleashed works better as a kung fu flick.


DVD Details:

Screen formats: Widescreen Anamorphic 2.35:1

Subtitles: English, Spanish, French, Closed Captioned

Language and Sound: English: DTS 5.1 Surround; English: Dolby Digital 5.1

Other Features: Color; interactive menus; scene access; deleted scenes; director's commentary; featurettes.

* Featurette:
o Serve No Master - Mostly includes interviews with cast members as they discuss their characters.
o The Collar Comes Off - Narrated by Morgan Freeman. Explores the fight and stunt choreography that went into the film.
* Music Video:
o Unleash Me by the RZA
o Atta Boy by Massive Attack
* Production Interview: five-minute interview with director Louis Leterrier.
* Deleted Scenes

Number of discs: - Keepcase packaging.