Somewhere in the vaults of DC or Marvel, there is a comic book called The
One, featuring a story of a man who travels across alternate universes
killing versions of himself in order to become a god. And if there isn't, there
will be. The video game will be right behind it. The movie is straight off of
the four-color presses, fresh from the arcade, and if that's the sort of thing
that you're in the mood for, then this is for you.
The premise of The One is strong, and could have been a powerful
sci-fi film. Jet Li plays two (three, if you count his cameo in the first ten
minutes) versions of a man named Law, or variations thereof. One of those versions
lives on a world where it has been discovered that there are universes parallel
to our own, part of the multi-verse; this world has also harnessed a method
of travelling from one universe to the other at will. The Law of this world
has made an additional discovery: if he kills a version of himself on one of
these alternate Earths, the life energy from the dead version gets spread to
the surviving ones. After 123 versions, two things become apparent -- Yu Law
is far more powerful than normal people, and Gabriel Law (the good Jet Li) is
the only thing standing in his way from becoming a god-like being. Or from the
destruction of all the universes, as things are thrown out of balance; no one
knows for sure what the end result would be, and so Yu Law has two Multiverse
cops (Delroy Lindo and Jason Statham) hot on his tail.
Really, though, this is more than you need to know -- and probably more than
you'll remember walking out of the theater. The movie is not so much a story
as it is a vehicle for lots of kicking and exploding (Warren Ellis would be
proud). There are no horrible moments of plot discontinuity or truly objectionable
acting that take away from the plot, but rather the action takes so much of
a front seat that it seems unlikely that even the most talented writer could
have found room for development.
Jet Li, though much better as the menacing Wah Sing Ku in Lethal Weapon
IV, is improving as an actor, but let's not fool ourselves: we're not
here to make Oscar predictions. What Jet Li does is action, and if he has an
equal in the fighting department, it is Jackie Chan. Like Chan, Li moves with
an inhuman grace and speed, defying expectations with his physical abilities.
Watching him in action is as beautiful as it is brutal, far superior to the
Van Dammes and Seagals of the movie world.
Hopefully, that's enough for you, because there's not too much more. Delroy
Lindo is a fine actor, but rarely would he stand out in a film like he does
here. His character's calm insistance on following the rules to catch a criminal
who recognizes none is the one trait that gives the viewer something to hold
on to in the maelstorm of gunfire and martial arts. Carla Gugino may be a great
actress, but here she's nothing more than eye candy. Even her character's opportunity
for emotional meaning gets lost quickly in order to get to the next fight sequence.
What makes all of this forgiveable, though, is the frenetic pace that director
James Wong (who, with co-writer Glen Morgan, is best known for work on The
X-Files and Final Destination) sets in motion. The film
is not edited for the microwave generation (see The Crow: City of Angels
for an example of Movie Editing For Attention Deficit Disorder), but it nonetheless
passes by in a blur. The action almost never lets up, and for once, it's a good
thing, focusing on Li's physical poetry instead of a weak script. It likely
doesn't hurt that the special effects play more effectively with the audience's
sense of time than any film since The Matrix -- and thankfully,
does it with a variation on the 'Bullet Time' that has been done to death. It
seems, at times, that everything about this movie is akin to a serious beating
after a hard night of drinking -- the effects, the choreography, the heavy metal
It's also worth noting that The One handles the 'twins played
by the same actor' better than any film to date. Sure, it's been done before
(in the same genre, even, by Van Damme and Jackie Chan both), but never so convincingly.
The final fight sequence alone, which reportedly took nearly four weeks to film,
is jaw-droppingly real. Through the use of body-doubles and computer
compositing, the filmmakers have opened the door to a new level of believability,
at least in movies that don't require strong English abilities.
Science fiction fans will recognize elements of The Highlander;
comic readers will pick up on the overt homage (or is that blatant theft?) to
J. Michael Straczynski's Rising Stars and DC's Crisis on
Infinite Earths. No, this film is not the most original, but that's
really okay. The One is not geared toward those looking for new
and cool plot-twists and outside-the-box ideas. This movie is aimed at fans
of WWF-style television: lots of choreographed action, plenty of pyro, and just
enough plot to keep things moving forward. And if nothing else, The One
hits the target with a bullseye.