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The Fifth Element

movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: The Fifth Element

Starring: Bruce Willis, Gary Oldman
Director: Luc Besson
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 122 Minutes
Release Date: May 1997
Genres: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Action, Cult

*Also starring: Luke Perry, Milla Jovovich, Ian Holm, Chris Tucker, Lee Evans, Yolanda Garza, Nina Brosh

Review by John Beachem
3½ stars out of 4

Korben Dallas (Bruce Willis) is an ex-fighter pilot in the 23rd century who now flies a cab. His life takes a sudden turn when a beautiful young woman named Leeloo (Milla Jovovich) falls into his cab. Leeloo is a perfect entity, sent to Earth to fight the ultimate evil, which comes every five thousand years. Four groups are searching for Leeloo: Priest Vito Cornelius (the excellent Ian Holm), whose line has assisted in the fight against evil for centuries; Jean-Baptiste Emmanuel Zorg (the wonderful Gary Oldman) and his flunkies, who work for the ultimate evil; an evil warrior race known as the Mangalores, who were betrayed by Zorg; and the Earth government, led by the ever uncertain President Lindberg (Tom "Tiny" Lister Jr.) and his chief General, Munro (Brion James). Now Korben and Leeloo have to meet up with Cornelius, find four sacred stones needed to fight the evil, and get back to Earth in just a few days or all life in the universe will be destroyed. Along the way Korben will meet such peculiar characters as a cross-dressing radio host named Ruby Rhod (Chris Tucker), a galactic Diva named Plavalaguna (Maiwenn Le Besco), and a mugger (Mathieu Kassovitz) with a very interesting hat (don't ask, it has to be seen).

"The Fifth Element" is not a movie designed for all tastes. Viewers will most likely be divided into two groups: those who don't like their movies far-fetched and ridiculous, and those who love their movies to be comically bizarre (I fall into this category). The first group is going to loathe this movie because it represents all they detest in cinema. The plot (despite my rather confusing description) is child like in its simplicity. The characters are really nothing more than cartoon characters given human form; and all the movie's events are so ridiculous these people will no doubt be hitting the stop button after about thirty minutes. The other group is going to have an absolute blast. These people won't care about how ridiculous the movie is, so long as it entertains with fantastic visuals and off-the-wall humor. Is "The Fifth Element" entertaining? It is, quite possibly, the most flat-out entertaining movie I've seen this decade. It has no qualities one would associate with a great film, but if that's what you're looking for when you watch this movie you've obviously heard nothing about it. Rather than giving a deep, meaningful, Oscar worthy (you know, boring) picture, Luc Besson ("The Professional") instead chooses to give us a movie which promises to be just one thing - fun. "The Fifth Element" delivers on this promise in spades.

Dramatic acting is obviously not going to be of supreme importance in a movie like this, but comic acting is all important. Bruce Willis does quite a good job as the jaded Korben Dallas, dead-panning nearly everything but occasionally letting just a trace of amusement at his surroundings leak out (watch for his scene with the mugger; it's too funny for words). Milla Jovovich delivers a very amusing performance since she spends over half the movie speaking in gibberish. Word has it she actually made up her chattering language as she went along. Chris Tucker's ("Friday") performance is something of an acquired taste. When he first showed up on screen, I'll admit, I was rather shocked; but as the film went on, his character grew on me (maybe like fungus, but whatever works). The two actors who truly deliver outstanding comic performances are Gary Oldman ("Lost In Space") and Ian Holm ("Brazil"). Oldman hams it up like you've never seen as the multi-zillionaire Zorg. Zorg has a limp, a southern twang, a bizarre wardrobe, and an even stranger haircut. In the hands of anyone else, this character would have been a pathetic failure. Oldman actually manages to make Zorg likeable enough that a small part of you wants to see him get away, if not win. Ian Holm displays some of the best comic timing I've seen from an actor, well, anywhere. The way he delivers some of his lines is nothing short of perfection (one of my personal favorites was Ian Holm saying, "We're going to save the world my son." Korben responds with, "You're um, heh, gonna save the world?" Holm says, in an exasperated tone, "Yes!").

"The Fifth Element" is one of those marvelous movies which contains scenes that will stick with you for days, weeks, possibly even months afterwards. My favorite scenes were Leeloo's reconstruction in a futuristic (though very peculiar looking) laboratory; Korben's cab being chased by the police through the futuristic city; and the Diva's scene where she sings a beautiful (though very alien) opera while Leeloo fights a horde of Mangalores. Those first two I mentioned show Besson's visual imagination in two very different ways. The scene where Leeloo is being assembled is something quite extraordinary. It shows her skeleton being assembled quickly, piece by piece, then muscle and tissue being created over it, and finally skin being created. It's a remarkable scene in a remarkable movie. Korben's car chase gives us a chance to see most of Besson's futuristic city, and it's a sight to behold. The city is comprised of massive skyscrapers, surrounded by row after row of flying cars, going up as far as the eye can see. The scene with the Diva singing her opera while Leeloo beats up the Mangalores is exquisitely filmed (I must have re-watched that one scene five or six times). It combines Leeloo's martial arts style fighting with the singing flawlessly. Again, none of these scenes are going to win any major awards, but they're ever so much fun to watch.

Those who have seen Besson's work on "Nikita" and "The Messenger" know he is one of the more erratic directors in Hollywood. "Nikita" was a suspenseful tale which bordered on masterpiece, while "The Messenger" was quite the opposite. His work on "The Fifth Element" is far closer to that in "Nikita". One of Besson's trademarks is his frantic pacing throughout the film; this didn't work in "The Messenger", but it works perfectly in "The Fifth Element". The movie runs 126 minutes, which should have felt like an eternity, but with the combination of Besson's quick pacing and constant laughs, it feels more like 45 minutes (I'm not kidding). The soundtrack to "The Fifth Element", by composer Eric Serra ("Goldeneye"), is one of the film's strongest points. It's such a bizarre mix of different types of music (everything from something which sounded Jamaican during the car chase to beautiful instrumental music at the film's conclusion) that it could have sounded awful, but each song is somehow perfectly suited to its scene. I'd recommend the movie to anyone who likes their movies more than a little on the strange side and give it four and a half out of five stars.

Copyright 1997 John Beachem

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