Two of the principal architects for the cult status of "The X-Files" television series are the writing/producing/directing team of Glen Morgan and James Wong. After spending many years toiling away at various writing jobs in the house of Stephen J. Cannell (honing their storytelling skills on "21 Jump Street", "Wiseguy", and "The Commish"), Morgan and Wong were signed on by Chris Carter for his fledgling genre series. During the two years that they served as writers and co-executive producers, Morgan and Wong were responsible for formulating many of the series' well-loved characters, including The Lone Gunmen, FBI Assistant Director Skinner, and the shape-shifting villain Toombs. In addition, the duo's scripts laid much of the foundation for what would keep audiences glued to their television sets week after week-- the enigmatic 'conspiracy' series mythology and the deepening relationship between lead characters Mulder and Scully.
With the success of "The X-Files" behind them, Morgan and Wong went on to create and produce their critically-acclaimed television series "Space: Above and Beyond", which recontextualized the Second World War as a conflict between Earth and an invading alien force. Unfortunately, "Space: Above and Beyond" did not generate the ratings that Fox Television was expecting, and the duo returned to the Chris Carter Camp to work on "Millennium". Last year, in addition to serving as writers on another critically-acclaimed yet short-lived series ("The Others"), Morgan and Wong also made the leap back into feature films with "Final Destination", an unconventional take on the typical 'dead teenager movie' in which the heroes try to outrun Death and its Rube Goldbergian traps.
With such an impressive body of work, especially in high-concept genre offerings, it is of little surprise that they were handed "The One", the latest Jet Li ("Kiss of the Dragon") vehicle that dabbles with parallel universes. Unfortunately, the sheer novelty, as well as the traditional emphasis on character, story, and humor that typically permeate their previous work, are conspicuously absent in "The One". Instead, their latest effort is an overblown special effects extravaganza that perfectly illustrates how audiences can accept the impossible, but not the implausible.
The fodder of many "Star Trek" episodes and even an entire television series ("Sliders"), "The One" makes use of the concept of parallel universes. Based on quantum mechanics theory, it is postulated that there exist an infinite number of universes, which are created through the occurrence of random events, such as a car turning left or right. In "The One", the 'multiverse' is inexplicably comprised of only 125 of such parallel universes, and at least one of these universes has harnessed the ability to travel between these parallel worlds, which is policed by a law enforcement agency.
One former member of this agency, Yulaw (Li), has spent the last two years criss-crossing the multiverse, killing his other 'selves'. As each of his counterparts dies, their 'life force' is redistributed to the remaining ones, making them faster, stronger, and smarter, "Highlander"-style. With 123 down, Yulaw only has one more to kill, Gabe Law, an LAPD officer in 'our' universe, which will either make him a God-like being or destroy the universe as we know it, whichever comes first. Fortunately, there are two agents on Yulaw's tail, Funsch (Jason Statham of "Snatch") and Roedecker (Delroy Lindo of "The Last Castle"), who are determined to stop him at (almost) all costs.
The most impressive aspect of "The One" would have to be the special effects. The superhuman Yulaw and Gabe Law can dodge bullets, jump great distances, kick adversaries clear across a room, and toss motorcycles like pinâtas, all in "Matrix"-style 'bullet-time'. Martial arts fans will also salivate over the film's finale, where Jet Li's skills and CGI combine to competently realize a fight between Yulaw and Gabe Law. And if that's all that mattered, then "The One" would be a sure-fire recommendation.
Unfortunately, the rest of the film is sorely lacking. Despite the rich dramatic possibilities afforded by the concept of parallel universes (such as the nature of identity and the consequences of one's choices), the low-mileage script is often illogical as it tries to heighten suspense artificially with contrived plotting. One of the reasons why Yulaw has been able to get away with murder 123 times is that Funsch and Roedecker are not allowed to kill him. Why? Just like how there are only 125 parallel universes, it isn't really explained, but it certainly keeps the story going on for long enough to fill out the short 80-minute running time. This sort of arbitrary plotting continues right up to the end, where a pile of implausibilities provide an impossibly-happy ending.
Performance-wise, though he gets to play 'good' and 'evil' versions of himself, Li takes a step back from "Kiss of the Dragon", where his still-weak command of English and his cardboard-crafted characters are easily overwhelmed by the pyrotechnics. Statham is the obligatory maverick rookie cop, Lindo gets to play his by-the-book superior, and Carla Gugino ("Spy Kids") shows up in the thankless roles of being Li's girlfriend or wife in the various universes. Finally, long-time fans of Morgan and Wong will recognize a few regulars in the supporting cast, including James Morrison ("Space: Above and Beyond") and Tucker Smallwood ("Deep Impact").
Emphasizing mindless action and plenty of eye candy over intelligence and good storytelling, "The One" is a disappointing effort for all involved-- the writing/producing team of Glen Morgan and James Wong, as well as star Jet Li. Hardcore martial arts or "The Matrix" fans may find some guilty pleasures in this sci-fi actioner, but for everyone else, this is not 'One' to be taken seriously.