Bruce Willis and Milla Jovovich star in THE FIFTH ELEMENT, directed by Luc Besson for Columbia Pictures.

The Fifth Element (1997, Luc Besson)

The last time I saw a Luc Besson movie and thought it was really good, I tried watching Joan of Arc. Then I stopped exploring his filmography. This time, therefore, I’m prepared. I haven’t seen The Fifth Element in years and I’m not sure why. Considering its cast, it’s something of a breath of fresh air. Ian Holm has either disappeared from cinema in the last five years or I’m just no longer seeing movies he acts in anymore, which is entirely possible. So it was really nice to see him (I feel terrible, like I’m suggesting he’s turned in to Brian Cox or someone–I’m sure he hasn’t). Bt the film also features Chris Tucker’s incredibly annoying, which is the point, performance and I remember it made me wish he’d do other supporting roles like it. then he got really big so it’ll never happen. Too bad.

But the film also features a great Bruce Willis performance. It’s so much fun–Willis has his action hero schtick, but Fifth Element finally lets him do it in a comedy and a good one. The most impressive thing about the film, besides Eric Serra’s music maybe, is Besson’s understanding of timing. for a film with major pacing issues (more in a second), The Fifth Element is perfectly timed. Willis and Milla Jovovich really work well together in the film because Willis is able to alternate from a caring, paternal figure (gee, wonder if the age difference has anything to do with it?) and the romantic interest and because Jovovich’s character is an alien, his concern works. I don’t think he’s ever done so much work as a romantic lead as he does in this one and he’s great. Jovovich is also quite good–and not for the female action star reasons she’s good today, which suggests Besson just directed her well and maybe the role wasn’t very hard. But she’s good.

Now for the two problems. First, whoever they got to do the voice of Bruce Willis’s mother on the phone was the wrong choice. His character doesn’t work with an annoying mother. Maybe if he had an Uncle Leo, but not a mother. every time it comes up (three times, I think) it wallops the film with an aluminum baseball bat.

The second problem has to do with the pacing. Like I said, the film is perfectly timed–it’s one of those “hang out” movies Tarantino says he wants to make and never seems quite able to pull off–but it’s too slight. It’s too fast for everything going on and needs another fifteen minutes throughout. The ending is great in a way I’d see more Luc Besson films if I didn’t know better, but it’s not as good as it could be… the material before it doesn’t deserve it.

Willis… Jovovich… Holm… Tucker… I need to say something about Gary Oldman. Oldman’s gotten to be something of a punch-line (well, not really something of one) in the last ten years, but he’s fantastic as a villainous French (?) industrialist who speaks with a Texas accent. Either he had a great time doing it or he faked it really well. He is fun to watch in the film, just to see what he’s going to do next, which no longer describes his acting at all.

Maybe I’m just in the mood for long films right now, but I didn’t want The Fifth Element to end. I was enjoying it too much (Besson and Robert Mark Kamen, who write terrible action movies together, somehow turned in a fantastic script).

But, still… I must remember… never, ever try to watch Joan of Arc.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Luc Besson; written by Besson and Robert Mark Kamen, based on a story by Besson; director of photography, Thierry Arbogast; edited by Sylvie Landra; music by Eric Serra; production designer, Dan Weil; produced by Patrice Ledoux; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Bruce Willis (Korben Dallas), Gary Oldman (Zorg), Ian Holm (Cornelius), Milla Jovovich (Leeloo), Chris Tucker (Ruby Rhod), Luke Perry (Billy), Brion James (General Munro), Tommy ‘Tiny’ Lister (President Lindberg), Lee Evans (Fog), Charlie Creed-Miles (David), Tricky (Right Arm), John Neville (General Staedert), John Bluthal (Professor Pacoli) and Mathieu Kassovitz (Mugger).


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