The F*cking Black Sheep: The Fifth Element (1997)

THE BLACK SHEEP is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATH. We’re hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Dig in!



Truth be told, I never cared much for Luc Besson’s THE FIFTH ELEMENT. In fact, so little genuine interest was there in my core around the time of its release, at only 14 years old mind you, that I didn’t even see the flick for many years later. Strange, considering how much I loved Besson’s previous film, LEON: THE PROFESSIONAL. Doubly odd when considering I was square in the target demo for this big, dumb, loud, flamboyant, farcical sci-fi send-up. And when I did finally catch this sucker on cable one night, in totality, no interruptions? Unimpressed! Straight up, THE FIFTH ELEMENT is an obnoxiously tone-deaf, annoyingly crass, ultra-goofy morass of images and ideas pulled, cribbed and bitten from far better movies. It’s unadulterated level of camp and kitsch cannot be overlooked, cannot be atoned for, and in the end, THE FIFTH ELEMENT is little more than a shallow and fallow piece of sci-fi entertainment that is too light and cartoonish to warrant its beloved reputations. I smell a F*cking Black Sheep up in here!

Now, to lend credit where it’s due, there are some truly impressive visuals and grand set-pieces in the flick that deserve plaudits rather than demerits. Especially in 1997, you just didn’t see this sort of dynamic futurism…the cityscapes, the alien spacecrafts, some of the alien technology, etc. Despite aping everything from STAR WARS, STAR TREK, ALIEN, BLADE RUNNER and others, there is a distinct fabric and texture to the worlds within THE FIFTH ELEMENT that sort of sets it apart. The movies greatest strength is clearly in its gaudy VFX-driven design.

But what about the story? The characters? The acting? Seriously, Bruce Willis in a skin-tight neon orange tank-top and horrible blond-peroxide dye job? WTF! How are you supposed to exude toughness in a getup like that? How are you supposed to save the world looking like John McClane’s hair-stylist? It just can’t be. Corbin Dallas? F*cker sounds like a 90210 guest star.

Even more vexing though is Milla Jovovich as Leeloo, the orange haired infant messiah who grunts and growls her way through the entire picture. Yikes! I cannot stand this performance one bit. How Besson rendered a 21 year old Milla Jovovich swaddled in nothing more than a few Ace bandages so thoroughly annoying and unlikable is a downright travesty. Criminal charges ought to be pressed!

Chris Tucker as Ruby Rhod? Uh, atrocious! Once again, here’s another character who is loud, shrill, gratingly unlikeable and once you get past the appreciation of seeing Tucker as someone other than Smoky, it falls flatter than Milla’s taped up bosom. Rhod in a plush-velvet leopard onesie and phallic Dennis Rodman do? About as intimidating as sounds!

And don’t get me started on the great Gary Oldman as Zorg. Dear lord. The same cat that was popping pills, cricking his neck and instilling unending fear in LEON has been reduced to what? A Texan-drawling, Boy George comb-over and soul-patch wearing fop of fearsome foe? Stop! This dude is about as frightening as a glittery Twi-lighter!

Ironically, the only two performances I enjoyed – precisely because they’re grounded in a semblance of reality – are that of both Ian Holm and Brion James. Too bad their presence loudly calls to mind far better sci-fi movies they starred in before, ALIEN and BLADE RUNNER, respectively. This just in, Ridley Scott > Luc Besson!

Of course, these laughable characters and irritating performances might be forgivable if the story were tighter and more compelling. But there’s a simplistic, 50s sci-fi B-movie plot to operate the action, one about a fiery ball headed toward Earth and the needed Fifth Element to protect it. It all feels so tired and retreaded, rubbery and recycled. And because the primacy of the VFX tend to play on too long in any one given scene, this two-hour endeavor feels much longer than it actually is. Had Besson dialed back the action and concentrated the plot more judiciously, there would likely be less repetition and a better overall flow. As it is now, THE FIFTH ELEMENT feels like a kid’s version of TOTAL RECALL. In fact, the same FX house, Digital Domain, worked on both films. But this just in, Paul Verhoeven > Luc Besson!

Honestly, aside from a few technical marvels, I can’t understand what’s so great about THE FIFTH ELEMENT. It’s a goofily derivative pastiche…a big, dumb sci-fi cartoon that can only function as a piece of juvenile escapism. Which I suppose has its place, but canonized as great? Come on. Its strength is in the superficial. It’s a bloated $90 million hologram. And let’s be real, this new Besson venture VALERIAN AND THE CITY OF A THOUSAND PLANETS looks like nothing but a 20 year sequel. Will it too be an overhyped F*cking Black Sheep? Chances are!



Extra Tidbit: Give us your thoughts on THE FIFTH ELEMENT below!
Source: AITH



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