THE FIFTH ELEMENT is an action / science-fiction hybrid
that cost nearly $100 million to make but left out two of the most
crucial elements of both genres. The best action flicks have a good
sense of humor and the best science-fiction films have a brain. THE
FIFTH ELEMENT has neither, and zero suspense. What it does
have is a terrific visual style, outrageous art direction and a wide
variety of people sporting a wild variety of costumes, proof movies
are looking more and more like music videos. If only they'd fade out
after four minutes...
The first 15 minutes or so take place in Egypt, 1914, where
an explorer has discovered some strange markings in a temple as
Luke Perry looks on. A priest tries to stop the explorer from
stumbling upon a cosmic secret, but too late. Down comes an alien
spacecraft, out of which steps a strange bronze / chrome being that
unlocks the entrance to a strange room. The brings out four small
stone obelisks just as Luke shoots it. No, Luke, it's a friendly alien!
Too late, the alien dies, after squeaking out a warning about the evil
invading the earth 300 years from now.
Flash forward, oh, 300 years or so. We meet Bruce Willis,
a retired government agent who's now living out the mundane
existence of a cab driver. In the first few scenes, we get the requisite
world-of-the-future scenes. The bed makes itself, the microwave
cooks food in a second, the cigarettes are four-fifths filter and the
Willis heads off in his cab as we cut to a secret government
lab, where a group of scientists are examining the DNA of an
armor-clad hand, the only remaining body part of an alien spacecraft
that was shot down earlier in the day. They stick it in some futuristic
chamber and reconstruct the entire being based on the DNA of the
hand. After a few bright flashes we see a nude, orange-haired Milla
Jovavich. One of the scientists makes the mistake of getting too
close to the glass chamber, as Jovavich smashes the chamber and
bashes his head in before jumping through the wall of the building.
A chase ensues as she jumps from the building and right
into -- as coincidence would have it -- Willis' cab. She's just
beautiful enough that he risks his life outrunning the cops. Of
course, she doesn't speak any English, so she can't tell him who she
is or what she's running from. All she can say is the name of a
priest, one in a long line of holymen who has been trained to protect
the four stones. But we soon learn the stones were stolen by evil
Zorg (Gary Oldman), who is working for the evil aliens that want to
destroy the earth.
Jovavich was sent by the good aliens to protect -- she is the
fifth element. So the elements are earth, air, wind, fire and anorexic
models? I can handle a universe like that. The weak writing shows
through as the priest reminds Willis that she may have superhuman
strength but she is also fragile. She needs his love to survive.
Pathetic, as are the caricature portrayals by Oldman as the psycho
villain and Chris Tucker as a flamboyant but frightened radio host
who is thrust into the action two-thirds of the way into the movie.
THE FIFTH ELEMENT has a few interesting elements.
It's fun most of the time and always flashy, but it's also missing a lot.
We don't care about the characters, there's no suspense and the plot
is predictable and borrowed from hosts of other sci-fi flicks. If
they're going to throw so much money at a movie, they should at
least invest a few million in the creative end. The mise en scene is
nice but it doesn't balance out the writing.
The two-and-a-half star rating applies to the viewing
experience I had -- huge screen, digital stereo sound. It was almost
enough to make it seem good at times. Otherwise, the rating is
knocked down by at least a half-star.
Copyright © 1997 Andrew Hicks