“There can be only one.” Usually, if you heard that phrase, the immediate image that would be recalled is Christopher Lambert in a kilt and Sean Connery as a Spaniard. And in a sense, “The One” is a sort of inter-dimensional Highlander-esque film with kung fu replacing swordplay. But although the basic premise is surprisingly absorbing, the film relies too much on the action and doesn”t develop any of the characters or explore the endless possibilities of the plot.
The films opens with a narrator telling us that there are actually many parallel universes, and that there is now a force that “seeks to destroy the balance so he can become the one.” The force that he refers to is Yulaw (Jet Li), who has discovered that every time he kills a version of himself, he grows in strength, speed and intelligence. So far he has killed 123 of his counterparts, and the one remaining adversary is Gabe Law, a cop in a world very similar to our own. Funsch (Jason Stratham, “Snatch”) and Roedecker (Delroy Lindo, “Get Shorty”) are agents of the Multiverse Bureau of Investigation, and they are pursuing Yulaw to make sure he doesn”t become “the one,” (which has an uncertain consequence, with possibilities ranging from Yulaw”s implosion to achievement of deity status).
The basic elements of the plot actually surpass most of the films of this type. As Yulaw wreaks havoc and kills in Gabe”s world, Gabe is blamed for all of the murders. The suspense of these sequences, in which we are the only other ones who know Gabe is innocent, are vaguely reminiscent of mistaken identity espionage movies of the “50s.
Jet Li handles the dual role well, giving us his normal, innocent and borderline goofy expressions as Gabe but convincingly hardening his face and his voice for his scenes as Yulaw.
Most of his fight scenes include some slow motion action, but an interesting twist that is used in these sequences is that while Gabe or Yulaw remain at normal speed, everything and everyone around them slow down to show their increased agility. Computer graphics are used to have Gabe fight his evil twin as well as perform gravity-defying acts while escaping or fighting. These fight scenes are exciting but sometimes comical, as Yulaw crushes a policeman with two motorcycles that he lifts as easily as his own arms.
One of the major flaws of the film is that it surrenders to many cliches of this genre. Everything from his interactions with his wife to a by the numbers “Oh, whew, it”s only a cat” scene reek of recycling, e.g. the final battle takes place on a catwalk in one of those classic factories full of steam that appears to produce nothing but walls of fire and showers of sparks. No wonder the economy sucks.
Another major flaw of the film is that it doesn”t spend time on any of the things that you would want it to spend time on. All the characters end up being very two dimensional, and even though there is ample opportunity to explore other parts of the story and expand on the whole idea of the “multiverse,” the film moves along at an often irritating speed. The pacing problems and the lack of depth could be attributed to James Wong”s inexperience outside of television work. His previous work on shows like “The X-Files” and “Millennium” might explain his apparent trouble breaking out of the 50-minute TV show format (although, to his credit, he was one of the writers for “21 Jump Street.” Kick-ass)
The special effects of the film just aren”t enough to make up for the lack of development of the story or the characters. For all its visual grandeur, the film pales in comparison to other Jet Li projects like this summer”s “Kiss of the Dragon,” which relied on good old fashioned street fighting. Someone like Jet Li can survive and succeed based on his actual skill and camera blurring speed alone. Stick to the basics.