Comfortable and Furious

The Fifth Element

I don’t know why, but I really like The Fifth Element. The adage, “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts” springs to mind. Because if you dissect The Fifth Element scene by scene you have a stinker of a movie; a real turd. However, there is a charm, a style if you will, that is threaded throughout the whole picture which manages to not only tie The Fifth Element together, but to elevate the movie to a certain degree.

Firstly, The Fifth Element is a cool story. Aliens come to earth every five thousand years to save the earth and humanity from absolute evil, and in the process, they created the moon. There is a secret brotherhood of priests whose soul worry in life is to safeguard the temple so that when the aliens return, everything will be ready to go. What is needed are the five elements, which are represented by the four elements Aristotle wrote about (Earth, wind, fire, water) and a fifth – love. Luckily a Frenchman directed this movie, so while stones signify the four “common” elements, love is represented by an uber-sexy half-naked Ukrainian super-model (Jovovich). For some sinister reason that is never quite fully explained, Zorg (Gary Oldman) decides to steal the stones. Which of course will bring about the destruction of the world.

Enter Bruce Willis. Nobody’s favorite everyman, Willis plays Korben Dallas, a cabbie on the edge. He’s ex-military, (of course) divorced, cynical, jaded – a true loner. Yet he has a weak spot. He is holding out for the “perfect” woman. Oh yeah, from various sources that range from an alien to a priest to a top government scientist, we learn that Jovovich’s Leeloo character is, genetically speaking at any rate, perfect. Director Luc Besson relays this message to us right on the nose at least a half-dozen times. All sorts of zany hi-jinks ensue, and in the end, Bruce Willis saves the world by slipping Jovovich the tongue. I love this movie!

Like I said, though, if you were to break this movie down scene by scene, you would be horrified. Especially with the acting, some of which is downright horrible. First on the list of guilty parties is Tom “Tiny” Liston Jr. Look, we all loved the guy as Zeus in the Hulk Hogan vehicle No Holds Barred, but maybe it was a stretch to cast him as the president of the world? Especially since he chose to play the role straight. It was like watching Garry Busey in black face. I just couldn’t take Tiny seriously. Another stinker was the usually reliable Brain James as General Munro. I still think he and the rest of the cast of Cabin Boy deserve Oscars (It’s water, ain’t it?) and he’s still my favorite replicant from Blade Runner. In The Fifth Element however, he’s just terrible. Awkward at all moments, especially when he is called upon to deliver jokes. They fall very flat.

Somehow more annoying than usual is Chris Tucker. He literally shrieks for half an hour straight. His character, Ruby Rhod, somehow gets mixed up in the whole quest to get the stones back. Ruby is some supposedly straight yet shockingly gay radio host complete with his own entourage of yes men. His performance is just gross, and the more I think about him on screen, the more I question why I like The Fifth Element as much as I do. To my eyes, Chris Tucker is trying as loudly as he can to reverse any sort of gains African Americans have made towards being treated as equals since 1956. I hope one day Paul Mooney stabs him in an alley on top of MC Hammer’s corpse.

In fact, most of the bit parts in this movie are poorly acted. I’m thinking it has more to do with French/American culture clash than it has to do with the writing. Like how John Woo thinks it is super-cool to name his characters things like “Tequila.” In terms of pure camp value, The Fifth Element is hard to beat. Everything, even the big, scary monster guys is a little silly, a little goofy and a little funny.

Now I’m confused. Why do I like The Fifth Element so much? It certainly isn’t Gary Oldman’s portrayal of Zorg, which certainly ranks up there with what he pulled in Hannibal as his worst performance ever. So, what is it? In truth, I think it’s Besson. Regardless of what any of y’all think about The Fifth Element, Besson wrote and directed The Professional, one of my all-time favorites. So, he has talent and more importantly he is capable of telling a story. The constant comic relief is a little much for my tastes, but The Fifth Element definitively has a pulse worth checking out. The sets, by the way, rule.

Ruthless Ratings:

  • Overall: 7
  • Direction: 7
  • Acting: 5
  • Story: 7
  • DVD Extras: ???
  • Re-watchability: 8

Special Ruthless Ratings:

  • Number of times you realized that Bruce Willis is directly responsible for how 90% of West Hollywood dresses: 18
  • Number of times you realized that Mila Jovovich really is hot: 19
  • Number of times you were disappointed that her “thermal bandage” outfit wasn’t more revealing: 12
  • Number of times you were glad that Besson went with an all-super-model female cast: 9
  • Number of times you realized that you just really like how the movie looks more than anything: 45
  • Number of times you realized that George Lucas completely ripped off the chase scene from Attack of the Clones from the taxi cab chase scene in this movie: 6