Only in America can a man with limited
language skills parlay a dream into reality. You might think it would
be a hindrance for the film business, but no. Two years ago he merely
served as the subject of a documentary, American Movie, but this
year, Mark Borchardt has a memorable role in a major motion picture,
The One. Oh, and yes, Jet Li is in it, too.
The casting of Borchardt stands out because
it can only be meant as a joke. He pops up in a hospital morgue, talks
about porn, and then is out, just one more wink from the production
team of Glen Morgan and James Wong. As in their earlier movie, Final
Destination, they know that their story is riddled with cliches,
so they might as well make it fun for us.
Betraying their television origins, Morgan
and Wong open The One with a voice-over to explain their premise.
We have not one universe, but a multi-verse, and we have not one self
but multiple selves. Each time one of "us" dies, the other ones become
more powerful. One man has begun hopping the planes offing himselves,
in order to become "The One." While more than a little of this seems
borrowed from Highlander, Sliders, and The Terminator,
don't discount the effect of hypertime and a little style.
Jet Li stars as many of the one, most
specifically evil Yu Law, good Gabe Law, and criminal Law Less. Yes,
we cannot take this seriously. At Yu's sentencing, we see many of his
alter egos, including Rasta Law, Sven Law (a Swedish Jet Li - or should
that be Yet Li?), and Malibu Law with Dream House.
Yu escapes, pursued by cross-universe
police Roedecker (Delroy Lindo) and rookie Funsch (Jason Statham, from
Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking
Barrels. Note that he, too, had to have a dialect coach so as to
be understandable to American audiences.)
The pursuit has an air of desperation
because Yu has killed everyone but one, LAPD officer Gabriel, who himself
has been experiencing sudden increases of strength, dexterity, speed,
and…hey, this is a lot like D&D.
A lot of plot holes open up, but never
loom as large as the pandimensional wormholes (okay, let's just call
them Boom Tubes and be done with it) that shuttle the characters around.
For some strange reason, this multiverse still seems to be finite, as
Yu only has 124 of himself to kill. And if this is dangerous, what happens
if parallel selves die in an accident? They can't all die at once, so
why aren't there a lot of superbeings running around?
At this point, let me tell myself to shut
up and continue enjoying the action.
And there's a lot of it, well done. No
stranger to CGI work, Li knows how to still make himself look believable
in the midst of special effects, which themselves are excellent. Morgan
and Wong do not overplay the superpowers, but do illustrate them well.
Running scenes alone will make you long for a good Flash movie.
All of the fight scenes work surprisingly
well, especially the obligatory final confrontation in the abandoned
factory. Though the roles of Law were originally created for The Rock,
seeing Li vs. Li may provide a greater kick.
It's also not completely stupid. Amidst
the high concept, Morgan and Wong still found places to put a little
humanity. Gabriel has a soulmate, his wife T.K. (Carla Gugino), and
his devotion to her plays well. The brutish Statham even gets a moment
to give a glimpse of the man behind the badge. Though much of this movie
plays over the top, the actors find time to underplay. Of course, Li
can't help it.
The only really weird sequence comes up
front, when Li appears as Lawless. Not an actor of great range, his
interpretation of badass just looks stupid. Until the real badass self
Yu appears. Then Li reminds us why studios have a great deal of hope
that American audiences will spark to him. It hasn't quite happened
yet, but it should. He's a good deal better than Jean Claude Van Damme,
and we bought into him.
Of course, should he fail to become a
big box office star, Li can always revisit this concept. It feels ready
made for a television adaptation, and it should come as no surprise
that one of his characters has essentially been set up to be a superhero.
So let there be a sequel of some kind.
But then, would the world be ready for the old One Two?