Most science fiction movies, good or bad, have a single look and
set of characters that they use throughout the entire production. But
not Luc Besson's THE FIFTH ELEMENT. Every five minutes, some totally
new character or special effect is introduced. This makes for a highly
involving and mesmerizing film. Although the film is incorrectly being
marketed as the "STAR WARS for the 90s," it does have some of the
imagination of the STAR WARS saga. Where it differs, is that THE FIFTH
ELEMENT never takes itself very seriously.
The current trend among filmmakers is to engage in a battle with
the studio's finance department with the filmmakers' goal being to
spend the maximum amount possible on special effects. Whether the
effects are worth the money becomes irrelevant; the effects become an
end in themselves. THE FIFTH ELEMENT puts some sanity in this trend by
spending every penny wisely, producing some of the most dazzling
effects in a long time. If you are envisioning a depressing BLADE
RUNNER motif for Besson's vision, think again. THE FIFTH ELEMENT is
described in the press kit as showing a non-apocalyptic future, and Dan
Weil's sets are suitably colorful and inviting.
Typical of the innovativeness is its rendering of traffic in a big
city in the year 2259. Rather than heavy traffic on the one street
level, the airborne cars operate on numerous but carefully controlled
parallel logical surfaces. Keeping the ROGER RABBIT looking taxis in
line, are police cars with the cops in Jean-Paul Gaultier's uniforms
reminiscent of RoboCop.
Among all of the visual spectacles is a story and some excellent
acting as well. Bruce Willis, who can be terrific but has been in so
many dogs like COLOR OF NIGHT that I have begun to dread seeing his
name on the marquee, plays the starring role of the taxi driver and
ex-government agent Korben Dallas.
One day, a newly made woman with orange mop hair and some Band-Aid
strips for clothing drops into Korben's cab, and I do mean drops. She
speaks only a sing-song style of language that baffles Korben. ("I
only speak two languages," he tells her, "English and bad English.")
Her name is Leeloo (Milla Jovovich), and she has just been created from
a strand of DNA from the remains of an alien spacecraft. In 48 hours a
fireball of evil will consume the world unless she, being the perfect
fifth element, and stones representing the other four are combined in
some long lost temple.
The screenplay by Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen has enough
complexity to make following it somewhat of a challenge, but never so
much as to lose the audience. Working through it becomes an
interesting diversion, but all eyes stay glued to the screen to see
what will happen next. THE FIFTH ELEMENT is more a feast for the eyes
than the mind.
The film is filled with cartoonish shoot-'em-up violence, Willis,
as one of many shooters, plays a much more lovable character than he
does in the DIE HARD series. His enjoyment of his character transfers
easily to the audience. The chemistry between Korben and his sidekick
Leeloo pulsates with comedic and romantic energy.
Beautiful Jovovich speaks with a Yoda-like, sparse syntax. ("Me
fifth element," she reassures Korben. "Supreme being. Me protect
you.") With her quirky mannerisms and speech, Jovovich steals most of
Gary Oldman plays Zorg, the leader of the bad guys on planet
earth. His has a deal in progress with the thing about to destroy the
planet. Oldman plays his part as total camp. With a heavy southern
accent, he spouts one aphorism after another, including the classic,
"What doesn't kill you makes you stronger."
The funniest character in the entire movie is the black
transvestite and talk show host Ruby Rhod (Chris Tucker). Ruby Rhod
with his leopard skinned dress, his cylindrical hairdo, and non-stop
mouth provides a perfect complement to the fast paced action.
All of the details, right down to the barbecuing of the ugly
little parasites on the spacecraft before the flight, are carefully
orchestrated with maximum imagination. The press kit says that Besson
first got the idea for the story when he was a teenager and has been
developing it ever since. I believe it. The result overflows with
energy and creativity.
THE FIFTH ELEMENT runs 2:07 and is worth every minute. It is
rated PG-13 for brief female nudity, cartoonish violence, and a little
profanity. The film would be fine for kids say 9 or 10 and up. I had
great fun at THE FIFTH ELEMENT so I recommend it to you strongly and
give it *** 1/2.
Copyright © 1997 Steve Rhodes