Twenty-five-years ago, the French filmmaker Luc Besson, with the slick thrillers “La Femme Nikita” and “The Professional” already securing him a spot among directors to watch, decided to make a comedy. Well, a better term for what resulted — “The Fifth Element” — would be a science-fiction action comedy. It was a treat back then, it has remained one for me through the years (I’ve seen it 17 times), and it will be one for anyone watching it again or catching it for the first time when it’s re-released, in celebration of its silver anniversary, via Fathom Events, on June 26 and 29.
So, what’s “The Fifth Element” got going for it?
It starts in the Egyptian desert in 1914, when a group of hulking ETs called Mondoshawans land their spaceship and attend to some business inside a pyramid. Then it jumps ahead approximately 300 years to the crowded streets and skies of New York City. Yes, there are flying cars — lots of them.
Former army major Korben Dallas (Bruce Willis) is a rogue cabbie driving one of them. Another ET, the gorgeous, orange-haired Leeloominaï Lekatariba Lamina-Tchaï Ekbat De Sebat (Milla Jovovich) — you can call her Leeloo — drops in on him, literally, through his cab’s roof, way up in the air, after leaping from a skyscraper, trying to evade capture by the police.
Ian Holm, playing the priest Father Cornelius, displays his ample comic chops. Chris Tucker, as the excitable radio host Ruby Rhod (a part that almost went to Prince), should have won an award for overacting (if there is such an award). Gary Oldman, portraying the nattily dressed, frustrated, philosophical, and villainous Zorg, inexplicably does so with a Southern drawl. The director’s real-life wife at the time, Maïwenn Le Besco, is a bald, blue-skinned diva who lip syncs an aria from the Donizetti opera “Lucia Di Lammermoor.” Willis is wryly hilarious in the action-hero role, while Jovovich is lissome as a sort of female warrior (the character after whom the film is titled).
Astute readers will notice that I haven’t mentioned the plot. Truth be told, it’s kinda convoluted, and mostly concerns the hope that good will conquer evil. But the plot doesn’t really matter. This is a frantically paced, brilliantly edited, visual effects-filled, matchless movie. It must have stunned audiences when it was the opening night film at the 1997 Cannes Film Festival. It can, no doubt, still do that now. Different cinema locations are offering 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. screenings on June 26 and 29.
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