FIFTH ELEMENT, THE(director: Jean-luc Besson; screenwriters: Robert Mark Kamen/Jean-luc Besson; cinematographer: Thierry Arbogast; editor: Sylvie Landra; cast: Bruce Willis (Korben Dallas), Gary Oldham (Zorg), Milla Jovovich (Leeloo), Ian Holm (Cornelius), Chris Tucker (Ruby Rhod), Brion James (General Munro), Luke Perry (Billy), John Neville (General Staedert), Matthieu Kassovitz (mugger), Tom ‘Tiny’ Lister Jr.(President Lindberg), Charlie Creed-Miles (David); Runtime: 126; Gaumont; 1997-France)
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
It’s cyberpunk! A free-wheeling comic book-style sci-fier about a cabbie and former Special Forces weapon expert, Korben (Willis), who is reactivated to military duty in order to save the world from an evil force, in the form of a ball of fire, that is on its way to destroy our galaxy. The only thing that can stop it is the fifth element (the life force itself). You see, there will be no future without that element. The finding of the keys to the fifth element is the key to opening up the mystical fifth element that was buried in ancient Egypt, and is the key to saving the world. This turns out to be the mission for someone who is deemed perfect, the pretty redhead, Leeloo (Milla). She knows where the element can be found and who is herself one of the five elements. Leeloo drops in on the world from outside the solar system to make contact with the cultish priest Cornelius (Ian). He knows about such mysteries from his past lives (You know, all those skeptics would never believe what is going down, so Cornelius is the man to see). Leeloo speaks a divine language that only the priest understands, which incidentally is not English. That is basically the story line for this absurd but delightful ride into the 23rd century. It features a wonderful cast of scenery-eating villains, who make the most out of this spectacle. If you are able to get into the nonsense, you could find this trip to be a joy ride. I found myself not sure if I was laughing at the cast or with them.
The other four stones for the fifth element are in an outer space vacation place and in hot pursuit is the government, represented by agent Korben. There is also a psychopathic maniac in pursuit, played with gleeful villainy by Gary Oldham as Zorg; and, some renegade gun-toting alien monsters who felt double-crossed by Zorg and who are now freelancing on their own. The vacation spot turns out to be a delightful place for untold mayhem and heroic action scenes and campy humor.
But the real star of this film is special effects and the daring costume designs. The future New York City is brightly colored and its air traffic lanes look super cool, as flying objects whirl by in the super-imposed computer animations.
Chris Tucker, who could be a clone for an animated Dennis Rodman, is an over-the-top singer and radio talk-show host in the outer space vacation spot. His frenetic performance consists of outrageous dialogue and gestures, adds bewilderment to the chaos all around him. He is unceremoniously helping Korben out as the villains do their thing. Tucker adds his touch of insanity to the already insane story.
The Fifth Element is the most expensive film in the history of European cinema ($70,000,000), yet was not a financial success at the box office or even a critical success. But I found it to be an entertaining film that will probably become a cult favorite and age well, and should be long remembered for its energetic spoofing.
REVIEWED ON 2/24/99 GRADE: B
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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