Genre: Sci-Fi Adventure Running Time: 1 hr. 27 min.
Release Date: November 2nd, 2001 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: James Wong Actors: Jet Li, Jason Statham, Carla Gugino, Delroy Lindo, James Morrison, Dylan Bruno, Richard Steinmetz, Tucker Smallwood, Dean Norris
here is not one universe. There are many. A multiverse. The technology exists to travel between them, but it’s highly restricted and heavily policed. Across these parallel existences a dark presence seeks to destroy the balance, exploiting the combination of multiple identities’ energies into a godlike being who can unleash the full potential of multiverse domination.
In one particular reality (the Anubis Universe), LAPD officers escort a prisoner known as Lawless (Jet Li) for a routine transfer. But in the parking lot, a shadowy figure not only murders Lawless, but also the entire squadron of special forces, managing to move faster than any human, making use of some exceptionally unconvincing CG-based fight choreography, wirework, and slow-motion. It’s intended to be the first of many jaw-dropping action scenes, but it sets the stage for embarrassing absurdities instead.
The deadly assassin is Gabriel Yulaw (also Jet Li), who flees from a pursuing police unit sent from an alternate dimension. Multiverse Agents Harry Roedecker (Delroy Lindo) and Evan Funsch (Jason Statham) apprehend the multiverse-traveler, trapping him in a vortex of computer-animated disintegration/shattering and lights and noises – yet another display that is supposed to be impressive but is bizarre and unsatisfying at best. Yulaw has slaughtered 123 iterations of himself across 123 universes using illegal quantum jumps, and with the help of a suspiciously attractive woman (Carla Gugino, dressed in what can best be described as a Jessica Rabbit costume), he escapes sentencing to pursue a final victim: Gabe Law (Jet Li, of course), whose death could bring about apocalyptic consequences.
The setup suggests that every person has an equivalent persona in every universe, which makes little sense when it comes to the infinite, random components and influences of life. Fortunately, most universes aren’t aware that the multiverse exists. For those that do, alternate identities are of the same age and appearance, and often serve in similar roles or jobs and partner with the same people – or, at the very least, turn up in the exact same places (or conveniently cross paths) throughout the varying timelines, making it simple enough to track movements and recognize equivalencies. It would seem that the infinite multiverses are rather closely related (some nearly indistinguishable from one another), thereby negating much of the amusement of a multiverse in the first place.
“Nobody’s got all the answers.” Perhaps what’s strangest about this premise is that “The One” is little more than a martial arts-infused cop drama. The use of heavy sci-fi themes and rip-offs of “The Matrix,” “Timecop,” “The 6th Day,” and other futuristic thrillers that dwell on doppelgängers and doubles and “wrong men” (including smaller films like “Impostor”) are somewhat wasted here. Rather than developing the weightier speculative concepts, much of the short running time is devoted to battles and shootouts, which are momentarily diverting but largely forgettable.
The biggest shame, however, is that Li isn’t allowed to show off his considerable kung fu talents without CG augmentation that ludicrously obscures his hand-to-hand combat techniques. Every time he engages in a duel, props or bad slow-motion or the invasive heavy metal soundtrack interfere, dulling the intensity of what could have been genuinely exciting action. The inevitable showdown, in which Li fights Li, ends up being the worst of the bunch – thanks to the awkwardness of staging split-screen effects, angles in which the stunt double’s face can’t be seen, or plainly pitiful editing choices intended to blur the logistical difficulties of one person fighting against himself.
– Mike Massie