In a time and place where people can move between parallel universes, Jet Li is Yulaw, a wanted criminal with a remarkably ambitious plan. Hopping from one dimension to another, he kills versions of himself that exist in alternate realities and absorbs their energy, growing smarter, stronger, and faster. With delusions of becoming a god fueling his murderous rampage, he has snuffed out 123 of his alterna-selves, and now there is only one other left. If he can kill his last incarnation (who has, incidentally, become equally powerful), then he will be the one Yulaw in all of existence and wield unimaginable power. Out to stop him, though, are two "Multiverse" cops (Jason Statham and Delroy Lindo) who have been pursuing him across the many realities.
I suppose I could complain about the movie's flimsy foundation of sci-fi technobabble. Hard-to-swallow ideas of traveling between parallel universes are burdened further by an obvious disregard for consistency. Why does the movie imply there are a finite number of alternate realities totaling 125? Why can Jet Li can punch through metal, but not knock out a person with a single blow? But such complaints seem pointless since story, character drama, and realism were the last things on my list of expectations for this movie. I went in looking for essentially one thing: action-packed kung-fu fightin'. Unfortunately, The One committed its biggest blunder by not delivering this single, cornerstone element.
While the plot suggests a blending of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon with The Matrix, The One delivers considerably less action and thrills than both of those films. It's surprisingly devoid of wall-to-wall kung fu, and the trailer already features virtually all of the film's highlight fight sequences. Although most of the choreography is fun to watch and some of the more reality-bending stunts are cool (like Jet Li effortlessly picking up two motorcycles and crushing a cop between them), there's simply not enough of this stuff. Except for the final showdown between good Jet Li and evil Jet Li, the fight scenes are brief and seemingly sparse. What comes between them is an overabundance of wannabe drama: drama between the two Multiverse cops; drama over the mechanics of dimension-hopping; drama between Jet Li and his wife (Carla Gugino).
One would think that with so many attempts at drama, there'd be a good deal of character depth, but there isn't. There's a hint of a story behind Jason Statham's character, the cop who wants to kill evil Jet Li instead of arrest him, but it's quickly abandoned for the cliche of two mismatched partners eventually growing attached to each other. Meanwhile, we're supposed to feel connected to Jet Li and his wife just because we know they met at a veterinary clinic under circumstances meant to make us go, "Awww...isn't that sweet?" It's all a little hollow, although I didn't have any problems with Carla Gugino personally--she makes her entrance as a flesh and blood version of Jessica Rabbitt, complete with red hair, tight dress, packed hourglass figure, and vixeny sway in her walk. (Anyone else notice how she starts a lot of her movies done up as a sexy alter-ego?)
Minor elements fall into the plus column: the process of inter-dimensional travel is depicted as a painful process whereby travelers are torn up and reassembled; fight scenes are backed by well-matched music from the likes of Disturbed and Papa Roach; overdone political correctness is modestly scoffed at when Jet Li lashes out at a dog; and the prison of the Multiverse cops is the Stygian Penal Colony in the Hades Universe (which would be the opposite of Lesbos Colony in the Playboy Mansion Universe). But overall, The One is a disappointing marriage of science fiction and action, with too much sci-fi nonsense and not nearly enough action. A resolution that feels unusually artificial, even by Hollywood standards, is the final nail in the coffin of this lackluster film.
Rating: 5 out of 10 (0=Abysmal, 5=Average, 10=Excellent)