An action SF movie starring Bruce Willis as a street smart/smart ass NYC cabbie who, when flying around some far-future big apple, finds the 'fifth element' in the attractive vessel of Milla Jovovich smash through the roof of his cab. Since she is the final part to a key that unlocks a phenomenal weapon it comes as no surprise that everyone from the authorities, to religious cults and evil intergalactic mercenary Zorn want to get their hands on Ms Jovovich.
Since this is directed by Luc (Nikita, Leon) Besson it has to be worth a look. And it is. Not for the daffy, cliched plot, but for the sheer spectacle of it all. And, over the years since its initial release it's hardly surprising that this has built up a large following.
Shot and directed as an action film rather than straight SF, means having Bruce Willis in the lead works well. Besson doesn't ask him to do anything in the acting stakes that he didn't already do in Die Hard, but ever since his Moonlighting TV days, Willis has always managed to wing it to some extent on his screen charisma alone, and this is a shining example. The rest of the cast is an eclectic bunch that Besson directs with all his quirkiness intact. Ian Holm as the religious fanatic looks slightly uncomfortable given that it isn't clear if his character is supposed to offer light relief or profound insight. But it's another British actor in the guise of Gary Oldman that stands out as one of the most bizarre screen villains of the entire genre. Looking like a camp, goofy version of Ming the Merciless from Flash Gordon, Oldman hams it up for Besson like there's no tomorrow. There's also a nice cameo from British comic turned actor Lee Evans, whilst his American counterpart Chris Tucker is literally a scream as an OTT and ubercamp DJ.
Although familiar, the plot and structure (we start in Egypt in 1914 and move forward 300 odd years) both offer countless opportunites for sweeping space opera a la Star Wars, but this clearly doesn't interest Besson who came up with the story and co-wrote the screenplay. (Or if it did then he's failed to deliver what he intended.) Instead, he goes for a series of broadbrush action set pieces that, for my money at least, cause what little story momentum there is to be temporarily lost. Although undeniably a work of art - the astonishing production design provides a masterclass in itself - this winds up being a bit too Emperors New Clothes for my tastes even if it stands up well to repeat viewing. 6/10
Rob Dyer (January 2005)
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