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Unleashed

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Unleashed

Director: Louis Leterrier
Runtime: 103 minutes
Cast: Jet Li, Morgan Freeman, Bob Hoskins

Writer-producer Luc Besson (La Femme Nikita, The Professional) isn't the credited director of Unleashed, but it can't truthfully be called a Louis Leterrier movie any more than Return Of The Jedi can be said to reflect the singular creative vision of its director, Richard Marquand. Unleashed is pretty much the ultimate Luc Besson movie, strongly suggesting that he would have thrived in the heyday of silent cinema, thanks to his gift for staging preposterous stories and comically over-the-top melodrama in largely visual terms. Besson doesn't need dialogue to convey his worlds' nuances, because there are none, especially in Unleashed, which achieves such a sustained pitch of hysteria that it makes past masters of melodrama like Douglas Sirk, John Woo, and Sam Fuller look positively austere by comparison.

In perhaps the loopiest scenario Besson has ever dreamed up, Jet Li stars as a caged, linguistically challenged manimal raised from childhood by sadistic Cockney hood Bob Hoskins to kill without conscience or remorse, once his dog collar is taken off. Li's subhuman existence takes a turn for the better after a car accident separates him from Hoskins and leads him to a kindly blind piano tuner (Morgan Freeman) and his sweetly geeky stepdaughter (Kerry Condon). Under his new family's benevolent tutelage, Li rapidly evolves to human status, but Hoskins isn't about to let his prize pupil get away too easily.

Even the faintest hint of self-consciousness could have ruined Unleashed. Thankfully, the film takes place in an irony-free zone in which no one ever acknowledges the ridiculousness of everything around them. Freeman and Condon, for example, don't seem at all unnerved to come across a feral man-child with a collar around his neck and the vocabulary of a 5-year-old. Then again, such a figure is no more remarkable or unusual in Besson's crazy universe than say, supermodel bank robbers, a zany cabbie with a futuristic super-car, or a President of Earth who looks and talks like Tommy "Tiny" Lister. It seems inevitable that at some point in the future, a particularly contrarian segment of the cinephile community will try to posit Besson as a genuine auteur, a gonzo maverick working in some of film's most commercial genres. It's likely that for those Besson-lovers, the endearingly insane Unleashed will occupy a place of pride high atop the rest of the filmmaker's spotty canon.