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Picks and Pans Review: The Fifth Element

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Bruce Willis, Gary Oldman, Ian Holm, Milla Jovovich, Luke Perry

Other than dyeing his hair blond, Bruce Willis isn’t exactly stretching himself in this loud, shiny, easily forgettable comic book of a movie. A sci-fi thriller boasting body-conscious costumes by French bad boy designer Jean-Paul Gaultier, The Fifth Element is Die Hard in a Blade Runner wrapper. Alas, it is neither as entertaining as the former nor as conceptually coherent as the latter.

Once the movie gets past a long-winded, explanatory prologue set in Egypt in 1914, it hyperspeeds to Brooklyn in the year 2259, where Willis plays an ex-military flyboy turned crabby cabbie. He reluctantly finds himself at the center of an intergalactic battle between the forces of—you’ve met them before—good and evil. Fifth Element may be set in the 23rd century, but Willis’s cynical, universe-weary hero, full of tough-guy patter (“Look, lady, I only speak two languages: English and bad English”) and apparently immune to hailstorms of bullets, is a direct descendant of his sinewy signature role, Die Hard’s John McClane.

The coolest things about Fifth Element, directed by France’s Luc Besson (The Professional and La Femme Nikita), are the movie’s gleaming futuristic look, alien creatures and the everyday details of life on Earth in 2259, including a ramshackle flying sampan that delivers take-out Chinese food. Amusingly flamboyant performances come from Oldman, as a lip-curling villain, and comedian Chris Tucker who, playing a hyperventilating, cross-dressing radio star, could be the mutant spawn of Dennis Rodman and Gone With the Wind’s Butterfly McQueen. Jovovich, Fifth Element’s alien heroine, spends most of the movie shrieking, none too convincingly. As for Perry (Beverly Hills, 90210), who plays an archeologist’s assistant: blink early in the movie—or get stuck too long in the popcorn line—and you will miss him. (PG-13)