Dog and cat find comedy gold in Unleashed

B+ Fantasy comedy
Written and directed by Finn Taylor

You’re going to figure out, very early on, how Unleashed will end. But that’s okay. You don’t go to this kind of movie to be surprised by the ending. You go to laugh.

After a very bad breakup, Emma (Kate Micucci) moves to San Francisco with her newly-adopted dog and cat. One night the pets run out of her apartment, get struck by magic, and become men. Hot, gorgeous, sexy men.

But inside, they’re still a dog and a cat. They have some idea of how humans behave, and they can talk and understand English, but they’re basically animals in the wrong skins.

Most of the humor in Unleashed comes out of this situation. That might sound repetitious, but writer/director Finn Taylor keeps things new, with a great deal of help from the two stars.

Justin Chatwin plays the former cat, Ajax – now named Diego. He’s clearly the smarter of the two, and figures things out quickly. His good looks and graceful (dare I say catlike?) movements turns him into the next big male model. Every woman on the Internet wants him.

Meanwhile, the dog Summit – now a human called Sam (Steve Howey) – is attentive and caring. He can sense good and bad people. He wants to hug everybody, but he takes particular interest in one woman (Illeana Douglas) because he senses she has cancer.

Both Ajax and Summit grow over the course of the film, learning how to behave like people. And as they grow, the gags change and get funnier.

Meanwhile, their owner Emma starts getting some very welcome attention from these two gorgeous men. Both guys are very affectionate, but neither seems to understand that there’s more to a physical relationship than cuddling and petting. It’s really Emma’s fault; she had them fixed.

Emma has a real man around her – a local handyman played by Sean Astin. She sees him as a friend, and he’s clearly in love with her. As I said, you know the ending.

A movie like this requires exceptional comic acting, and Taylor found that in Chatwin and Howey. They bring out their inner animals, yet manage to be human enough to get by…most of the time. There’s a scene of attempted foreplay where Ajax/Diego begins to remove Emma’s clothing. But we and she soon realize that he’s more interested in her straps and jewelry than her body. And Howey bounds with delight at everyone and everything.

Micucci is frequently delightful as Emma – a young woman straddling a line between enthusiasm and cynicism. But she overdoes it as often as she gets it right.

Unleashed is set in San Francisco, but the movie plays fast and loose with the geography. I think a couple of scenes were shot in Palo Alto. A few were shot within two blocks of my East Bay home.

I laughed a lot in Unleashed, and I loved the way the bad guy (yes, there is one) gets his comeuppance. It’s fun.