Rated PG-13 (Violence). Sun score: **
The One is all sound and fury, and nothing else. Save for the intriguing sci-fi premise that alternate universes exist, The One offers little but guys fighting and bullets flying, interspersed with momentary lulls.
Jet Li, who normally exhibits a lot more charisma than he does here, plays a dual role. In one universe, he's Gabriel Yulaw, a megalomaniac out for power and glory. His mission: visit each alternate universe via wormholes that open up sporadically, find his alternate self, and kill him. Each time he succeeds, he becomes more powerful. Kill all of them and he might become a god. So far, he's killed 123.
His last surviving other self is an L.A. County deputy sheriff named Gabe, a big-hearted good guy who packs a mean punch and is motivated by the common good - and by the love of his beautiful wife, T.K. (Carla Gugino).
The fireworks start when Yulaw lands on Earth. Many fights ensue, culminating in a big, Earth-shaking tilt pitting Yulaw against Gabe. (When Jet Li plays Yulaw, he obligingly rips off his jacket, enabling viewers to tell one from the other. )
The fight scenes aren't new, and the audiences accustomed to the beauty of The Matrix and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon will find the choreography uninspired, although the final Jet Li vs. Jet Li tilt isn't bad. Director James Wong is too enamored of close-ups, and directs the non-fight sequences with an abject lack of interest - an attitude that no doubt will afflict a large part of the audience.
Rated R (Adult language, nudity). Sun score: ** 1/2
Growing up is tough enough. But when you're 7 years old and there's a Depression going on, and you stutter so bad that sometimes you can't talk, and the British Protestants and Irish Catholics in your neighborhood can't get along, and your father is an overly proud jerk who blames his troubles on everyone but himself, and the neighborhood priest has you convinced you're going to hell, and one night you catch a glimpse of your mother naked - it's hard not to give up.
Liam is well-acted, but the film needs more leavening and less abrasiveness. Director Stephen Frears (Dangerous Liaisons, The Grifters) has a good handle on 1930s Liverpool and does a nice job of showing the despair his characters face - especially dad (Ian Hart). He can't catch a break, mainly because he's too pigheaded to even accept one that might come his way.
The film works best when it remembers its humanity and lets its characters soften a bit. As mum, Claire Hackett has the best scene, when she takes her two children to confession, watches them come out of the confessional in tears, then goes inside herself and asks the priest in exasperation, "What have you done to my kids?"
But Liam's deck is stacked. It's too bleak and filled with abrasive characters who don't deserve our sympathy to reveal much new about the human condition.