A Black Hole Review: Filmmakers' skills get lost in space as Bruce Willis star vehicle careens carelessly, witlessly toward the Apocalypse.


"The Fifth Element," a movie about Apocalyptic events in the future, distinguishes itself by making the obliteration of the universe -- our universe -- seem inconsequential.

Let's say that dramatic tension is not one of this movie's strengths.

As a matter of fact, "The Fifth Element," Bruce Willis' latest star vehicle, could well have been called "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Judgment Day." The funny thing in this case is that a movie beginning with the promise of an epic battle between good and evil decides part way through that it would rather be a '60s sitcom, and a bad one at that. Its sensibilities derive not from "Star Wars" but "The Monkees."

Directed by Luc Besson ("La Femme Nikita") from his own screenplay, "The Fifth Element" is a few elements short of entertaining. Plot, wit and character are three.

Even the special effects are reminiscent of another 1960s television show: "Lost in Space."

The most startling visual image of all is Bruce Willis' blond hair.

The one element the movie consistently demonstrates is schtick. But for that, you're better off with Nickelodeon.

"The Fifth Element's" fuzzy-headed story is this: Every 5,000 years, a hole opens between dimensions, giving some all-powerful but ill-defined evil force the opportunity to destroy 11 the universe.

Just why the evil force might want to do this is never explained, but in the year 2259, the time is up, and a huge fireball -- imagine a fiery grapefruit -- materializes in space and threatens earth and all of humankind.

Bruce Willis, in his latest bad career choice, plays a devil-may-care cabbie who flies his yellow cab on crowded thoroughfares above Manhattan. Think "Blade Runner" in cheerful Technicolor. Willis soon gets tangled up with Ian Holmes, a muddled old priest who knows how to thwart the grapefruit, and Milla Jovovitch, an exotic, occasionally naked creature in a Raggedy Ann wig who is key to Earth's salvation.

Arrayed against them is the evil force, which is never pictured but speaks exactly like Darth Vader. Why don't villains from outer space ever sound like Marilyn Monroe? Its representative on earth is Zorg, played by Gary Oldman, who wouldn't look out of place as a Munchkin and effects the accent of a Southern televangelist. Working in concert with him are a race of thuggish aliens with faces like boars who assume human form, but only briefly.

Both sides are trying to get their hands on four ancient stones, which, for no apparent reason, represent the four elements -- earth, air, fire and water. The fifth element, again unaccountably, is Jovovitch, who spends the movie jabbering in an ancient language.

The five elements in concert, we are told, are all that stands between life and death.

Not that the movie takes any of this seriously. Besson is mostly interested in indulging his appetite for slapstick and caricature, most unfortunately through a RuPaul-type radio host played tiresomely by Chris Tucker.

By the time Besson rouses himself to mount the obligatory confrontation between good and evil, the movie has long since become a cartoon. The only thing at stake is how much you should tip the baby sitter.

Most surprising about "The Fifth Element," which promotes itself as the "Star Wars of the '90s," are its disappointing special effects. Alien creatures never look like anything but puppets. The weapons resemble the Super Soaker water guns on sale at Toys 'R Us. Sets look like they will tumble over if someone bumps into them. And why, oh why, do filmmakers believe the future will bring an age where good taste will become extinct, where people will wear clothes made of vinyl and paint their walls in orange and gold?

L If that ever happens, maybe Earth will deserve obliteration.

'Fifth Element'

Starring Bruce Willis, Gary Oldman and Milla Jovovich

Directed by Luc Besson

Released by Columbia Pictures

Rated PG-13 (cartoon-like scenes of violence and brief flashes of nudity)

Sun score: * 1/2

Pub Date: 5/09/97

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