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THE FIFTH ELEMENT

   

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Oct. 30, 2015

EDITOR’S NOTE:  The Luc Besson-Bruce Willis sci-fi epic ‘The Fifth Element’ has just been released in a newly remastered Blu-ray edition, which looks gorgeous. Here is my May 9, 1997, Deseret News review.

There’s no question that French filmmaker Luc Besson’s “The Fifth Element” is the wackiest, goofiest, strangest $100 million-budget movie ever.

Imagine Mel Brooks and David Lynch collaborating to remake “Blade Runner.”

After this picture, we may better understand why the French love Jerry Lewis.

Stealing liberally from “Blade Runner,” “Star Wars,” “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and dozens of other lesser sci-fi fantasy epics, ranging from “Stargate” to “Species” (not to mention “The Love Boat” … sort of), Besson has concocted a wild, weird 23rd-century world where giant iron-shelled scarab beetles are saviors of the universe and huge, ugly, rubber-faced monsters can morph into human form by sheer will (though they can’t hold it for very long).

On Earth, meanwhile, roads have apparently gotten so over-crowded that vehicles now fly through the air — though airborne traffic is still ridiculously heavy. The president (of the federation territory) is played by hulking Tiny Lister Jr. (who is surprisingly effective in the role). And Bruce Willis is a retired “space fighter” who lives in a cramped apartment (really more of a hallway) and drives … er, flies … a Brooklyn cab.

  

One day, a young woman (Milla Jovovich) drops into Willis’ cab — literally — and a wild-eyed priest (Ian Holm) reveals that she is the title character. That is, you have your air, earth, water and fire — and this young woman is the fifth element.

To save the world from a raging, “evil” planet-sized fireball, she must be placed between sacred stones representing the other four elements. This will form a weapon designed to destroy evil.

OK, it makes no sense — and I warned you that it’s weird.

Anyway, to get to that point, Willis and Jovovich must go through a series of adventures that are increasingly bizarre with the film unfolding as a zany comedy. Honest!

— Chief villain Gary Oldman looks like a fey Chinese warlord, walks with a limp and speaks in a goofy Southern accent.

— A large woman who is assigned to impersonate Willis’ wife wears her hair in two huge buns, ala Princess Leia.

— A blue soprano who resembles one of the “Alien” creatures performs a lovely operatic solo on a stage.

  

— A wild-and-crazy talk-show host (Chris Tucker), who helps Willis and Jovovich save the world, is an amalgam of (the artist formerly known as) Prince, Arsenio Hall and Richard Simmons with a voice that sounds as if it’s on helium.-

— And they all come together on a spaceship-cum-vacation-cruise-liner to try and locate the sacred stones.

Trying to figure out the convoluted plot is probably futile, but what holds the film together — as far as it holds together — is its dazzling visuals.

Besson has obviously spared no expense for the film’s look, and scenes of vehicles flying around high-rise buildings, a cruise ship floating through space, special-effects details from pets to giant spaceships, etc., provide some wonderful eye candy.

And there are plenty of individual moments that are truly captivating, such as the Chinese junk that pulls up to Willis’ apartment window to deliver lunch, the aforementioned blue soprano’s performance and many others.

But as a whole, the chaotic effect is more on the order of a train wreck.

This is especially disconcerting in the final act, as the film turns into “Die Hard In Space.” Even when crazy weapons are used, gunfire and explosions are still just gunfire and explosions.

Even worse, however, is Tucker’s character, who is amusing at first but then quickly becomes so obnoxious you just wish he’d go away. Oldman similarly wears out his welcome before the film is over.

Sci-fi fans will want to check it out but don’t expect too much in the story department.

“The Fifth Element” is rated PG-13 for violence, nudity, sex, profanity and vulgarity.