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The One
Reviewed by Kenn McCracken, ©

Format: Movie
By:   Glen Morgan and James Wong
Genre:   Action / Science Fiction
Released:   November 2, 2001
Review Date:  
RevSF Rating:   7/10 (What Is This?)

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 soundtrack.

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.

Kenn McCracken is Comics Editor for RevolutionSF.

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