By any measure, “The One” is less than zero. After establishing a complex sci-fi environment with the kind of endless possibilities that even a Lucas or Spielberg would salivate over, co-creators James Wong and Glen Morgan — themselves vets of small-screen sci-fi — waste all their resources on a singularly dumb and remarkably boring chopsocky storyline. In the end, the movie’s only raison d’etre appears to be to stage a climactic battle between martial arts superstar Jet Li and … Jet Li, playing his good and bad selves. This might sound like getting double your value, but the combo of cheesy effects and martial arts choreographer Cory Yuen’s unimaginative staging results in something that’s martial artless. A core of fans will be moderately satisfied, but pic’s chances of landing a hit along the lines of Li’s “Romeo Must Die” are unlikely, though ancillary action will be brisk.
A title sequence brimming with abstract computer-generated images zooming through space promises a visually intriguing pic that never shows up, while a leaden voiceover track and onscreen graphics explain, in distinctly TV storytelling manner, how our universe is one of many in a gigantic Multiverse, in which each human being lives out separate but parallel lives in the various spheres. People are able to transport themselves, with the right kind of James Bond-style gizmos, across the Multiverse, but one nasty fellow named Yulaw (Li) has become obsessed with killing his other 124 selves (equal, apparently, though never explained, to the number of universes in the entire system), absorbing their powers and becoming the so-called “One.”
Opening action presents in the most threadbare fashion how Yulaw gets rid of No. 123, named Lawless. Pursued in his getaway by Multiverse cop Roedecker (Delroy Lindo) and Funsch (Jason Statham), a thuggish special ops type, Yulaw scampers away but doesn’t quite have the heft and speed of Superman. The threesome end up stuck in a wormhole, triggered by Yulaw’s high-tech wristwatch, which sucks them into a whirl of fragments to what looks like the Multiverse’s central courtroom and execution chamber.
In one of the desperately few amusing moments in the movie, Yulaw’s g.f. Massie (Carla Gugino) helps Yulaw avoid being sent to the dreaded stygian penal colony by releasing a bomb-carrying mouse from one of her ultra-high heels. Nothing is supposedly too far-fetched after this, so it shouldn’t surprise that frequent wormhole flyer Yulaw ends up in L.A., this time against No. 124, good-guy and L.A. County Sheriff’s deputy Gabe Yulaw (Li, again).
At about this point, the movie narrows down to the simplest set of action, and if ever a pic could be reduced to a set of index card notes, this is it.
If “The One” is a bizarre case of missed opportunities, the first is its resounding lack of humor. A situation that has multiple selves cruising around in various worlds is so intrinsically funny that comedy should be popping out of this movie everywhere; instead, “The One” is so leaden that it looks like Wong and Morgan actually suppressed the comedy, leaving only crumbs behind. (When Lindo appears late in pic in his L.A. self as a humble gas station attendant, it’s by then small relief.)
Even the extended Gabe-Yulaw chase, in which they’re both wearing all-black clothes and confusing everyone else, is something straight out of Jackie Chan but which nobody here seems to know what to do with.
And Li continues to struggle verbally in English, relying on his unflappable, hawk-like face and eyes to provide a movie star’s confidence. Fine actors like Lindo and the woefully under-used James Morrison are stuck in the wasteland of the script’s stolid dialogue. Statham is quickly getting typecast, playing yet another ramrod working-class soldier/killer. Given pic’s brief running time, Gugino’s double role (especially as her evil, sexed-up self) appears trimmed.
The visual design is a part of pic’s general disappointment, strikingly unremarkable until the final closing shot of the massive penal colony. The matching of Li fighting himself is seamless compared with several visible matte jobs.