'Unleashed': Film Review

Courtesy of Braveart Films
Kate Micucci shines in this formulaic but sweet fantasy.
8/25/2017

A lonely woman's cat and dog are transformed into hunky human men in Finn Taylor's romantic comedy.

Lonely viewers may find themselves eyeing their pets wistfully after seeing Finn Taylor’s romantic comedy about a young woman whose male cat and dog come to very hunky human life. Although it never quite lives up to the satirical possibilities of its high-concept premise, Unleashed delivers some mildly enjoyable laughs thanks to its engaging female lead and the exuberantly physical performances of her co-stars.

Kate Micucci, part of the musical comedy duo Garfunkel and Oates, plays the central role of Emma, an app designer (the go-to profession in movies these days). After her boyfriend betrays her by stealing her latest innovative design that promises to reap millions, the depressed Emma moves to San Francisco along with her beloved cat Ajax and dog Summit.

One night during a mysterious lunar phenomenon, the frightened Ajax and Summit bolt from the house and are miraculously transformed into young men — naked, naturally. (Don’t bother straining too hard for a rational explanation, as they’re in short supply in body-altering movies such as this.) Ajax (Justin Chatwin), whose feline condescension and swagger are fully intact, proves capable of paralyzing women with lust as he struts down the street and winds up becoming a male modeling sensation known as “Diego.” The rather dim Summit (Steve Howey), on the other hand, has a harder time adjusting to his new incarnation, especially since he can’t help himself from such canine behavior as leaping for Frisbees in the park.

The men’s inability to control their animal instincts is what spurs most of the humor in the lighthearted comedy. Diego becomes hypnotized by the sight of goldfish swimming in a bowl and eagerly climbs up a tree (in true cat fashion, he then finds himself unable to get back down). Summit, now known as Sam, chases balls and vigorously humps a copy machine. He also seems to go out of his way to demonstrate that dogs are intellectually inferior to cats.

The proceedings threaten to take a rather creepy turn when Emma, unaware of her pets’ new identities, finds herself drawn to the handsome strangers and starts dating them, much to the disappointment of her sad-sack neighbor Carl (Sean Astin), who’s smitten with her. But writer/director Taylor keeps the proceedings firmly in wholesome, PG-level territory by keeping the romantic dalliances strictly platonic.

Most of the film’s laughs are of the purely predictable variety, but it all goes down fairly easily. The filmmaker keeps things moving at a breezy pace and turns the pic into an attractive Bay Area travelogue by filming in as many scenic, well-known locations as possible, including a cameo appearance by the famously twisty Lombard Street. Micucci, whose wide-eyes make her look like she’s stepped out of a black-velvet painting, is thoroughly endearing as the unlucky-in-love heroine, and Chatwin and Howey expertly fulfill the physical demands of their characters with their amusing impressions of animal traits. Astin and Ileana Douglas, the latter as Emma’s boss who develops an unlikely bond with Sam, are mostly wasted in their small supporting roles, but Hana Mae Lee provides solid support as Emma’s emotionally supportive co-worker.

The sort of fanciful romantic comedy for which the term "chick flick" was practically invented, the too-tame Unleashed might have benefited from more fully living up to its title. But its mild charms prove ready-made for VOD viewing on a quiet Saturday night.

Production company: Braveart Films
Distributor: Level 33 Entertainment
Cast: Kate Micucci, Justin Chatwin, Steven Howey, Hana Mae Lee, Ileana Douglas, Josh Brener, Sean Astin
Director-screenwriter: Finn Taylor
Producer: Susan Johnson
Executive producers: James Huntsman, Todd Slater
Director of photography: Richard Wong
Production designer: Rob Riutta
Editor: Rick LeCompte
Composers: Mark Orton, Jenny Scheinman
Costume designer: Samantha Kuester
Casting: Sig De Miguel, Stephen Vincent

96 minutes

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