review by Cynthia Fuchs, 23 November
I miss who you were
There's one good thing to be
said for The One. It puts to rest any lingering doubts as to
whatever happened to Doug Savant, formerly Matt, The Gay Guy on
Melrose Place. For here he appears, uncredited as far as I can
tell, as an LA cop, his head smooshed by two motorcycles wielded by
the villain Yulaw (Jet Li). I can't even imagine what it must have
been like: he's stopping some guy on the street, when said guy
proceeds to lay out a couple of motorcycle cops, grab their bikes,
and hit poor Matt, whomp!, one on each side of the head, like he's
getting his ears boxed. It looks painful. Then again, the ignominy
of being one of several anonymous corpses in the latest Jet Li opus
can't be very pleasant either. Ah well, it's a living.
This must be the thinking behind
The One, which, as an SF flick, doesn’t bear up to logical
scrutiny any better than its most obvious precursor, Time Cop.
Still, even if you expect such cinematic junk from Mr. Double Van
Dammage, you may have been hoping that Li would not fall into
similar habits. Alas and alack: in The One, Li falls hard,
playing not one but two characters, the aforementioned bad guy
Gabriel Yulaw (whose name may have something to do with the fact
that he takes the law as his own to break and make), and Gabe, the
really nice Buddhist (apparently added to the plot after the Rock
dropped out to play the Scorpion King instead of the One). Gabe
works for the LA Sheriff's office, which means that he also has
access to fighting and shooting expertise. Good thing, too, because
Yulaw is one tough cookie.
Technically, the double role allows
for digital effects and wirework choreography by Corey Yuen (who
also worked on Li's Kiss of the Dragon), so that Jet Li can
do battle with Jet Li. To differentiate, one character conveniently
has a hugely significant wedding band tan-line, the other just a
snarly expression, and each adopts a particular fighting style,
circular Ba Qua for good Gabe, a more straight-on punching technique
for bad Yulaw. This moral dynamic gets a somewhat tiresome workout
in The One. The script, by ex-X-Files writers Glen
Morgan and James Wong (who also directs), has the doubleness
premised in the notion that we exist not in a universe but in a
multiverse, wherein parallel universes, not necessarily operating
within the same timeframes, are populated by parallel versions of
the same people -- it's like a whole bunch of Kirks and Anti-Kirks,
all living different but also vaguely similar lives.
The film includes some alternate-universey
in-jokes: in one, Al Gore is US President, in another, Gabe has long
blond hair, in yet another, he's married to a man. Since no one
really knows what might happen if the alternate selves ran into one
another, or how each universe affects the others, travel between
them is highly restricted, and if you're caught messing about,
you're zapped off to prison in the dreaded Hades Universe, where
it's dark and scary and inmates rip each other's guts out. Though
this might sound interesting, you know you're in trouble when the
first thing you get in a movie -- pre-credits -- is a simplistic
narration in a big-boomy voice explaining what you're about to see.
The set-up is obvious: someone will be traveling illegally and
someone will be trying to stop him.
Yulaw is the illegal traveler. A
former multiverse policeman himself, he's now flitting about the
multiverse, killing off his parallel selves (123 at the current
count) in order to suck up their energies and become The One. The
multiverse cops and administrators don't know exactly what will
happen after Yulaw has achieved his goal: will the entire multiverse
system collapse? Will some giant black hole swallow all life forms?
Will Yulaw himself implode or will he, as his adversary can barely
bring himself to say, "become a god"? Yulaw, for, uh, one, is
willing to take the risk.
That justifiably agitated adversary
is Yulaw's former partner, the exceedingly weary Roedecker (Delroy
Lindo), on the trail for two years (and 123 murders, or suicides, or
whatever you'd call them, given that Yulaw is eliminating versions
of himself). For some reason, he blames himself for Yulaw's
rampaging (as soon as you hear this sad story, you know that
Roedecker is not long for this multiverse). When a temporarily
detained Yulaw taunts him, "You miss me?" Roedecker can only hang
his head and say, "I miss you who you were." Bingo. This is
the film's big idea, the one it never explores -- the relations
between multiple selves and between selves who know one another in
multiple dimensions: how might such relations shape you, even if you
don't know (as seems to be the case here, in our universe) that they
exist? How is time (linear? nonlinear?) a factor in travel between
universes, in the way you understand yourself as somehow stable from
moment to moment? And what about all those lurking SF paradoxes that
accompany the possibility of encountering alternate selves?
Perhaps needless to say, these are
questions that The One does not engage. Rather, it goes for
the reductive action-plot, jumping from the clearly complicated
Yulaw-Roedecker relationship to the less messy one, between good
Gabe and Roedecker's younger, more aggressive new partner, Funsch
(Jason Statham, who seems to be wearing the same black leather coat
he wore in John Carpenter's Ghosts of Mars: apparently, in
the near future, cops' costume options will be limited). Both
Roedecker and Funsch are eager to capture Yulaw, who is now
superhumanly strong and speedy, but they're also loathe to kill him,
because there's only one other Yulaw left in the multiverse, and
they honestly don't know what would happen if that were left
to be The One, either. Best to keep both alive, but in separate
universes, so they can't hurt each other.
Good Gabe's introduction to the
whole business comes in a series of odd intuitive bursts: he "feels"
bad Yulaw's presence before he sees him (one more possibility for
investigation of what's at stake in this parallel universes idea...
wasted). Because Gabe has also been getting stronger and speedier
over the past two years, while the Yulaw Energies have been
narrowing to just he and bad Yulaw, he and his lovely veterinarian
wife T.K. (Carla Gugino) think this might be more of the same. By
the time they figure out what's going on, Yulaw has gotten past
Gabe's fellow deputies, and, despite Funsch's best protective
efforts, the two Jets will be locked in a super-showdown. The
supposed climax isn't nearly as amazing as it should be. Jet is a
fabulous fighter, but he's not much of an actor, and too much of the
camerawork in this scene consists of facial close-ups: he growls, he
contorts, he grimaces, he (or his stunt double) shows the back of
his head a lot, but what you want to see -- his body in
serious kicking and chopping action -- is not so much in evidence.
This is more the pity, because the
movie, for all its inability to push difficult philosophical
questions, relies instead on physical acrobatics and abuses for its
thematic substance. That is, the many ways that bodies are beaten
and battered, medicalized and manipulated, provide the film with its
most alarming and ultimately thoughtful images, and not only when
Yulaw and Gabe are bending each other's limbs into impossible
positions. Perhaps the most excruciating scenes take place when the
multiverse travelers jump blast from one place to another: they
don't get that chi-chi beam-me-up-Scotty shimmer. No. Their bodies
shatter into thousands of traumatized shards, then land hard,
gasping and writhing, while medics in white hazmatty-looking outfits
run insta-tests to make sure the internal organs are in their right
places. This seems a point worth making: bodies are frail.
PG-13 - Parents Strongly Cautioned.
Some material may be
children under 13..