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Danny the Dog

Feature


Jet Li is Danny, Danny the Dog. His name is not retro-ghetto slang; rather it is a description of his place in life. Danny very much is a dog. He’s been trained by his ‘Uncle’ Bart (Bob Hoskins) from a very tender age to be a leashed attack dog. When Uncle Bart, a small time British gangster, has trouble with his weekly collections, he simply sics his boy Danny on the offending party’s protection. As a dehumanized beast, Danny does as he’s told, and fights without fear or sympathy. But Danny is not a monster. Beneath his blank exterior is a young man longing to understand the wide world his master has hidden from him.

DANNY BLEED!
After a few coincidental and violent events, Danny ends up in the care of an aging, blind, piano tuner (is there any other kind?)named Sam played by Morgan Freeman, and his young stepdaughter Victoria, played by young Kerry Condon. Over the next few months, the warm-hearted Americans (we all know there's no such thing as warmhearted native Brits) become Danny’s new family, teaching him about all the things he missed in his depressing and emotionally dormant lifetime. Just when things are looking their brightest, a dark cloud in the form of Ol' Uncle Bart comes looming, looking for his pet and endangering Danny and his new family.

Danny the Dog, is a very manipulative film. We’re talking Bill Pullman’s Independence Day speech manipulative. New director, and Luc Besson protégé-of-the-week Louis Leterrier has his John Woo and Guy Ritchie emulations down pat, and Besson’s script borrows heavily from everything popular cinema has to offer, including his own masterworks Leon: The Professional and La Femme Nakita. Old standbys Hoskins and Freeman portray the same characters they’ve been playing for the last two decades, bringing nothing new to the table. Somehow, it all still works, very, very well.

Manipulation can be an admirable trait in entertainment. If a director can make an audience feel a specific emotion at a specific moment they pretty much win. Even if I wanted to be a cynical bastard, the right direction, along with the right mix of image and sound, performance and writing will produce the desired emotion despite my greatest efforts to the contrary. When Jet Li acts like a child, I cannot help but to find him lovable and adorable. When Danny is forced to fight against his will, I find it impossible to not root for him and find justice in his slaughter. Lowbrow, escapist entertainment has duped me; I admit both my failure and admiration.

Danny emote.
The fight scenes are special in their ferocity. Danny fights very like a canine, moving from one attacker to the next, taking them down with the most brutal efficiency possible. He fights dirty; he knees groins, bites flesh, punches windpipes, and crushes ribcages with the full force of his body’s weight. Yuen Woo Ping choreographs his fights with none of the grace or restraint that peppers his robust filmography. The only thing that keeps this from being the martial arts revelation of the year is the presence of Ong Bak (also co-produced by Besson), a film superior in its battle sequences and brutality, if not its actual dramatic worth.

Though fulfilling his own much perpetuated stereotype, Hoskins really owns the film every time he’s on screen. Li gives one of his finest performances to date, but simply cannot compete with the freight train of hammishness that is Uncle Bart. Freeman is, as usual, effective in his millionth gentle mentor role, and graciously allows himself to be outdone by newcomer Kerry Condon’s plumb cute presence. Her onscreen chemistry with Li is also surprisingly affecting, as is Li’s man-child performance, which made me forget their real life 20-year age difference at times. With the exception of one unnamed super-villain (you'l know the one), the entire cast has the right, imitative stuff.

DANNY SMASH!
Sometimes we all need a little stylized violence and predictable drama in our lives. I can think few better ways to spend a rainy Saturday night than watching old Danny beat the Hell out of some nameless Brit thugs. Now if only Luc Besson would actually pick up directing again, instead of writing and/or producing enjoyably vapid entertainment like this, Haute Tension, and the homoerotic adventures of The Transporter. A quick check at IMDB.com reveals fifteen in production projects right now.

Video


Even the most stringent detractor has to admit that Danny the Dog is a very well shot film. Rather than the overused saturated colours and high contrast blacks of most hip, modern action flicks, Leterrier and his cinematographer film Li’s adventures in cool and muted grays and blues. The city of Glasgow has never looked bleaker, in a good way. It’s too bad that this HK release has such a problematic transfer. Basic detail levels are pretty low and pixelization is very high, especially pixelization from low-level noise. Dark backgrounds often become blocky messes, and the dancing movement of said blocks is distracting on a big screen TV. I suppose when the HK market prices are so low, one gets what one pays for.

Danny emote.

Audio


I am most embarrassed to say that I spent a great amount of viewing time watching this particular DVD on its default stereo setting. Once I corrected the problem I was very happy indeed. Though the only other track was a “simple” Dolby Digital 5.1, it was very aggressive, and very lively. Music, action, and dialogue are all well balanced. Like Guy Ritchie’s cockney early cockney movies, sound design is crucial to the overall vibe, and this solid track does it justice.

Extras


There are zero extras on this particular release. The closest we get is the fact that this is the uncut version of the film. Those who may have caught the film in US theaters under the less cool title Unleashed can dash your hopes right now, as the ‘unrated’ cut includes no more violence, simply a character developing scene between Li and Freeman.

DANNY SMASH!

Overall


Referring to Danny the Dog as Jet Li’s finest Western film achievement isn’t saying quite so much, after such blasé entries as Romeo Must Die, Cradle 2 The Grave, and (shudder) The One, but what the heck, I’ll do it anyway. Ahem, Danny the Dog is Jet Li’s best Westernized movie. It has no right to be enjoyed, but I’m guessing the majority of younger film fanatics will eat it right on up. In a way, Danny the Dog is so gleefully derivative that I’d almost consider it a remake of about a dozen movies. Jet Li devotees, your patience has finally paid off, you can put away that warn out copy of Fong Sai Yuk for a while.

You can buy this title for US $12.99 from Yesasia.com.


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