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"THE ONE"
(2001) (Jet Li, Delroy Lindo) (PG-13)

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QUICK TAKE:
Sci-fi/Action: A cop battles another version of himself who's arrived from an alternate, parallel universe to kill him.
PLOT:
In what's known as the multiverse, parallel universes exist where multiple versions of the same person live in each of them, unaware of the others' existence. That is, except for Gabriel Yulaw (JET LI) and a group of agents who are after him. It seems that Yulaw, a former agent himself, is traveling to all of the alternate universes, killing the other versions of himself and thus absorbing their power. With the body count up to 123, Yulaw needs to kill just one last version before acquiring ultimate power.

Since both murder and travel to alternate universes are illegal, Yulaw is a wanted man and his capture now lies in the hands of agents Harry Roedecker (DELROY LINDO) and Evan Funsch (JASON STATHAM) who know they can't kill him lest his one remaining alternate self, Gabe Yulaw (JET LI), attain that power.

Accordingly, Roedecker and Funsch arrive in our world where Gabe is an L.A. cop living with his veterinarian wife, T.K. (CARLA GUGINO). From that point on and as the two men try to stop Yulaw, Gabe does what he must to protect himself from his doppelganger's various attempts on his life.

OUR TAKE: 3 out of 10
Back in 1914, the Wrigley Company introduced its Doublemint brand chewing gum, possibly named after the fact that it tasted like it had two times the amount of mint flavor compared to regular gum. Decades later, they added the now familiar advertising slogan, "Double your pleasure, double your fun," playing off not only the Doublemint Twins, but also the notion that if one thing is good, then twice the amount is even better.

Of course, ask members of Weight Watchers, AA or any other addiction program and they'll tell you that's not necessarily correct in all instances. The same holds true when it comes to movies, whether it relates to sequels, dollars spent on special effects or the same performer appearing in multiple roles in the same film.

For every "Dr. Strangelove" (Peter Sellers) that works, there are plenty of films like "Double Impact" (Jean-Claude Van Damme) and "Twin Dragons" (Jackie Chan) that don't. Joining the latter - and perhaps not so coincidentally so - is "The One." Yet another martial arts film, this one belies its title by delivering not a single but rather a double dose of up and coming martial arts star Jet Li.

After he made his U.S. mark in "Lethal Weapon 4" and "Romeo Must Die," aficionados could argue that double the amount of Li and his martial arts prowess should be twice as exhilarating, fun and/or amazing to behold. While that might have been true in another film with other filmmakers behind the camera, this film isn't "the one" that will turn Li into a credible or formidable mainstream star.

Originally prepped for WWF wrestler turned actor Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson (from "The Mummy Returns"), the film reportedly received a once or twice over when Li signed on as his replacement. Nonetheless, if the basic material was anything like what's present in the final product, even the likes of Tom Hanks couldn't have salvaged this dud.

Yes, it has plenty of action and martial arts mayhem. Yet, the way in which director James Wong ("Final Destination") has directed the picture like a live-action video game - replete with a heavy rock soundtrack during the fight sequences that have that unrealistic, sped up/slowed down visual look - robs the film and its star of any sort of engaging angle.

While video game addicts might groove on what's on display here, the fact that it's lacking any sort of emotional, let alone intellectual involvement - particularly since the viewer is just a spectator rather than active participant - means that even they might tire of the offerings long before the last punch and kick are thrown.

It doesn't help that the screenplay by Wong and Glen Morgan (who both collaborated on "Final Destination") is flat and poorly written. Essentially a combination of the parallel universe concept popular in about a gazillion sci-fi stories and "Back To The Future II," the assassin from another dimension element of the "Terminator" films, and the temporal police enforcement aspect of "Time Cop" (yes, another Van Damme film), the plot obviously has some inherent potential stemming from one character eliminating his alternate selves in all of the other parallel universes.

Even so, the filmmakers don't do a good job exploring the science behind the fiction, and they certainly don't exploit many of the numerous possibilities that accompany such a setup. Beyond a few minor instances, they don't even play that much with the mistaken identity elements, and certainly don't do so with any imagination or efficiency.

Of course, Li's fans will argue that none of that really matters since it's all designed (e.g. is just as excuse) to set up the various fight sequences. Nevertheless, even those diehard fans are apt to be disappointed. That's not only due to the step backward in the credibility department, but also in how the fights and action are conceived and executed.

The fun of watching the likes of Li, Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee is in being amazed at their inherent physical abilities and amazing moves and stunts. Here, that's mostly squandered thanks to editor James Coblentz's ("Final Destination," "Runaway") quick cuts and Wong's decision to add various "Matrix" style action sequences. Maybe it's just me, but I found nothing exhilarating watching Li's character knock someone into the air, watch them nearly freeze in midair, and then have him zip around and kick them again.

The big draw, of course, is supposed to be the notion and then sight of Li fighting himself. While such moments reportedly took weeks to film, the effect isn't as amazing, fun or interesting to watch as it could have been had the writing and directing been better.

As far as the performances are concerned, Li has pretty much been reduced to the shallowness of a video game character. Despite getting twice the screen time, his character is flat, less than engaging, and his "emotional" moments lack any sort of punch.

Jason Statham ("Ghosts of Mars," "Snatch") is about as flat playing one of those after him. While some interesting back story for his character is hinted at, it's never explored. Delroy Lindo ("Heist," "The Last Castle") fares a bit better simply due to the gravity he can bring even to a dull role, but Carla Gugino ("Spy Kids," "Snake Eyes") can't do much with her concerned wife material.

Despite the potential - from both a sci-fi aspect and the thought of Li battling himself - the film is a disappointing and less than involving affair that feels like nothing more than a rock 'em, sock 'em video game. Once it's over, it's unlikely you'll want to play again. "The One" rates a bit higher than its numerical title, but can't do any better than a 3 out of 10.




Reviewed October 29, 2001 / Posted November 2, 2001


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