SEE CORRECTION APPENDED
In the days when Jerry Lewis had more movie fans than charity supporters, the ultimate dream for Lewis acolytes was a picture in which their hero played multiple roles. But one man's dream could be another's worst nightmare, as was the case for the many who fled "The Family Jewels" in search of a sedative, if not a reason to go on living.
Defenders and detractors of Jet Li may find themselves in similar straits with "The One," although it's hard to work up extreme passions for or against the martial arts star. He's cool, cocky and effortlessly nice-looking in the way that male teenage moviegoers aspire to be, and he can crush a cop between two motorcycles the way one might snuff a candle with one's fingers. But he's far too unthreatening a presence to cause much of a stir amid the din of hard rock music and the pall left by fight choreography that has had every last bit of life digitally drained away.
In "The One," Li plays Gabriel Yulaw, a nasty excuse for a space investigator who bounces between parallel universes (a.k.a. "the multiverse") seeking out his 120-odd alter egos in order to destroy them. With the death of each alternative Yulaw, Gabriel becomes stronger, smarter and faster. He can dodge police bullets like nobody's business but is still fine-tuning his speed on Los Angeles streets, where he can only outrun a squad car at a piddling 50 mph. From what we can discern from the comic-book scenario (a fanciful bit of wishful thinking that allows for the parallel coexistence of a President Bush and a President Gore), Yulaw has come to Los Angeles for two reasons: to abet the film's producers with product placement insertions for Pepsi-Cola and to track down the last surviving Gabriel Yulaw. This other Gabriel is a hard-working member of the LAPD who enjoys the tireless support of his veterinarian wife (Carla Gugino), a good gal with a flip, B-movie mouth.
The wiseacre screenplay by co-directors and "X-Files" vets James Wong and Steven Chasman fails to fully capitalize on the mix-up potential between the two Gabriels, who are utterly identical but for the antagonist's telltale snarl. Whatever agility and grace there are to be gleaned from Jet Li's climactic pas de deux with himself are all but eviscerated by computerized hoo-ha that mechanizes a martial arts ballet into a herky-jerky bunny hop.
"Blade Runner" designer David L. Snyder has been recruited to design the futuristic sets, which have the cheesy, 1950s hotel-lobby ambience of "Queen of Outer Space." F/X aficionados will dig "The One's" technology of multiverse travel, an excruciatingly painful blend of atom splitting and vacuum cleaning that leaves participants dazed and grunting on the floor. You may be down there with them. Or you may be one with the Jet Li fans, who are howling like banshees.
MPAA rating: PG-13 for intense action violence and some language. Times guidelines: The action may be too intense for younger viewers.
Jet Li: Gabe/Yulaw/Lawless
Carla Gugino: T.K./Massie Walsh
Delroy Lindo: Roedecker/Attendant
Jason Statham: Funsch
Revolution Studios presents a Hard Eight Pictures production, released by Columbia Pictures. Director James Wong. Producers Glen Morgan, Steven Chasman. Executive producers Lata Ryan, Charles Newirth, Todd Garner, Greg Silverman. Screenplay by Glen Morgan & James Wong. Cinematographer Robert McLachlan. Editor James Coblentz. Costume designer Chrisi Karvonides-Dushenko. Music Trevor Rabin. Production designer David L. Snyder. Martial arts action choreography Cory Yuen. Art director Paul Sonski. Set decorator Jan K. Bergtrom. Running time: 1 hour, 27 minutes.
In general release.