The One Movie Review
If popcorn-picture auteur John Carpenter made martial arts flicks, they'd be just like "The One" -- an unabashedly cheesy, B-grade sci-fi amusement park ride with half-price special effects, action movie in-jokes, and Jet Li, a star with more charisma and cheap one-liners than acting ability.
As intentionally serio-comical as Carpenter's "They Live" (Rowdy Roddy Piper vs. aliens that walk among us) or his "Escape from..." pictures (leather-clad bad-ass Kurt Russell chewing scenery in post-apocalyptic New York and L.A.), "The One" is a parallel universe yarn in which an evil Jet Li goes dimension-hopping to kill his doppelgangers counterparts.
He's already killed "himself" in 122 out of 123 known realities, absorbing their life force to become super-human along the way. If he kills the last one, he'll become all-powerful -- or possibly make all reality implode, who's to say?
Two "multiverse agents" -- chisel-faced toughs Delroy Lindo ("Get Shorty," "Romeo Must Die") and Jason Statham ("Snatch") -- are hot on his trail and toting big silver handguns with silly rows of blinking lights on their "futuristic" targeting lasers. Their job is to prevent the bad Li from waxing the good, 123rd Li -- a nice-guy L.A. County sheriff's deputy from a universe almost like ours that doesn't have the technology to jump around in alternate worlds. (We know it's not our universe because a TV news broadcast leads with a story about President Bush's health care plan!) This benevolent Jet Li has also been growing stronger, smarter and a little bit psychic, but doesn't know it's because with the death of each of his other selves their energy is divided among those that remain.
Needless to say, he's more than a little surprised when his double shows up, delivering the deliberately hackneyed line, "The good news is, you're not crazy. The bad news is..." BANG! BANG! BANG!
Director James Wong and screenwriter Glen Morgan, both veterans of "The X-Files" and "Final Destination," don't pretend this is quality cinema and they don't pretend Jet Li can act. They know the characters are cartoons. They know the plot is full of holes. They know the wirework fight effects look like a low-budget video game ripping off "The Matrix." They know the slow-motion grimace shots of Li's face while he chop-sockies himself in the unfortunately over-edited climax are laughable. You're supposed to laugh at them -- and not with them.
(If anyone doubts the willful insincerity of the filmmakers here, just watch for the cameo appearance of amateur horror movie director Mark Borchardt, the Midwestern trailer geek profiled in the documentary "American Movie.")
It's not very often that a movie succeeds at being deadpan campy while still appearing on the surface to be a genuinely bad, big budget, B movie. But "The One" does it so well that when it was over, I wanted to see it again -- with a huge tub of buttered popcorn to throw at the screen between guffaws.