Sunday, November 16, 2014
The Fifth Element (1997)
The story is pure escapism, laid out with a light and humorous touch that throws in some rather nice emotional bits while still maintaining that fun tone that makes the film worthwhile. From the prologue in 1914 Egypt (complete with cool aliens) to the effects laden finale, the film moves at a breathless pace. There is an immense amount of exposition we have to absorb but, as with Big Trouble in Little China, it is delivered in a fast and fairly funny manner that lets you get all the really important stuff. If you miss a detail and you dug the film, that is what repeat viewings are for. If not, well, it's sort of a moot point then.
The cast acquits itself quite nicely with Willis turning in a lighter version of his usual hard ass routine; Milla Jovovich is good and actually quite effective as the genetically engineered young woman who is the only one who can stop the evil and Gary Oldman hams it up to no end as the bad guy, complete with out of place Southern drawl. Ian Holm is also fun as the priest who has the job of delivering the bulk of the exposition. The cheesy movie fan in me also loves having Brion James and Tiny Lister in the same movie.
Really the only casting issue is Chris Tucker as a radio host who tags along with the heroes. Tucker is just grating here, doing a shrill motormouth routine that honestly makes one long for the subtle humor of Jar-Jar Binks. He's not an entirely bad performer and I've seen him be good in other things (his shtick in Jackie Brown later in the year works just fine) but he just drags every scene he's in down just a little.
That aside, the film is pretty damn great both visually and in terms of overall entertainment. Besson creates a fantastically rich future world, sort of a lighter and happier Blade Runner with tons of detail (it's a wonder what modern filmmaking techniques can bring... or 1997 techniques in this case) and a nicely unique but familiar look that is pretty damn appealing. Action is good too, as are the creature designs. It's not anything really deep (and honestly, 127 minutes might be a tad longer than it needed to be) but it sure as hell gets the job done.
Apart from the one casting snafu, The Fifth Element is a visually rich, very entertaining bit of popcorn filmmaking with some well placed notes about humanity (it is, after all, a science fiction piece) and a fun cast. It's not perfect (some feel it's a modern classic though I wouldn't go that far) but it's certainly a fine way to spend two hours.