The Fifth Element
directed by Luc Besson
(Columbia TriStar, 1997)

It's a cinematic case for style over substance.

The Fifth Element is a campy, 23rd-century science-fiction adventure that looks great, and the sheer energy of its cast (to say nothing of its sets and special effects) rushes you through its paces so wildly that you might forget to notice that the plot is confusing.

Bruce Willis leads the cast and saves the day as an ex-Marine cab driver, Korben Dallas. His calm self-assuredness is a blessing in any film, and he provides a calm center to the movie's hurried pace.

He finds himself protecting Leeloo (Milla Jovovich), a scantily clad divine being grown in a cloning chamber after being reduced to a single cell in a fiery spaceship explosion. It seems she is the avatar for a race of clunkily armored aliens who know how to defeat evil, but her plans went awry and her memory failed after being "killed" by a band of bulldog-faced mercenaries.

The salvation of the Earth, it turns out, rests in finding four oblong rocks that were taken from an Egyptian tomb in 1914. Finding them involves, of all things, a pleasure cruise in space.

Gary Oldman runs hot and cold as arch-villain Jean-Baptiste Emanuel Zorg, who speaks with an exaggerated southern accent, has odd hair and doesn't seem to care that his machinations will result in his own death, too. Ian Holm is Vito Cornelius, the latest in a long line of nervous priests with secret dealings with the "good" aliens.

And then there's Ruby Rhod (Chris Tucker), the frenetic talk-show personality whose ebullience and ego are funny for a while, then become tiresome and overplayed. Mawenn Le Besco is the diva Plavalaguna, whose singing is somewhere between opera and electro-pop -- and who may be able to put her long fingers on those missing rocks.

The Fifth Element takes a lot of visual and campy SF elements, blends them together and hurls them at the screen with the hope that some kind of plot becomes clear in the process. The plot remains sketchy, true, but the movie is still fun in that basic I-don't-care-what-it's-about kind of way.

[ by Tom Knapp ]
Rambles: 3 August 2002

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