7/2/07

R002 The Fifth Element

(1997, SciFi, color)

Riffers:

Mike Nelson and Disembaudio

Element, fifth, discovered, have they? (as Yoda).

Rating: ****

In a nutshell:

Relates the adventures of an ex-military cab driver and a superhuman alien woman.

Summary:

The future looks like the set of Blade Runner redesigned by Disney Imagineers.In the 1940s, a prominent archeologist works in a recently discovered ancient Egyptian temple with his cartoonist assistant (Luke Perry) and a narcoleptic native boy. He haltingly translates the backstory from a set of hieroglyphics: Every five hundred years, four magic stones representing the four elements will work with an undefined fifth element to save the universe from unimaginable evil.

This is supposed to be a deep, dark secret known only to an obscure sect of science fiction priests. (Judging by the rough brown robes, I’m guessing they’re either Jedi or Space Catholics.) The current priest, a bald, shaggy-bearded man, realizes he must silence the archaeologist and his crew or...or something vaguely bad will happen. He attempts and fails to poison them.

Then the Mondoshawans arrive. (Mondoshawans: a peaceful alien race of large metal duck-turtles.) They waddle past the archeologist, through a secret door, and then out again with a case of magic stones and a floating sarcophagus. One of them remembers to kill the archeologist on the way out. Distraught, the cartoonist pulls an automatic pistol. Poorly aimed gunfire closes the secret door early, crushing the last Mondoshawan. He gives the secret door key to the priest before he dies; the priest promises to pass on “the knowledge” to his successors.

Centuries pass, and unimaginable evil surfaces once more in the form of large black sphere out in space. Warships surround it while the Galactic President meets with his advisors on Earth to discuss the problem. Against the advice of Space Priest Cornelius (Ian Holm), the president orders the warships to open fire. The planet monster grows dramatically in size as it eats a number of missiles, then an increased number of larger missiles, and then the warships themselves.

The President turns back to the space priests for advice. Father Cornelius pulls out his Ancient Book O’ Space Lore to reiterate the hieroglyphic backstory from the beginning of the movie. Let’s see, the big ball of unimaginable evil is here, so the Mondoshawans ought to be arriving with the five elements right about now…

The Mondoshawans fly into Galactic Federation space to make their sacred delivery, but then the Mangalores attack! (Mangalores: an aggressive alien race of shapeshifters whose natural form looks like the illegitimate offspring of a bald pit bull and the Toxic Avenger.) They shoot down the Mondoshawan ship, destroy the sarcophagus, and make off with the case for the four element stones.

They're on a collision course with wackiness, and brief female shirtlessness.A few cells on one of the Mondoshawan passengers survive. Federation technicians use them to reconstruct the being en toto, who turns out to be an athletic, orange-haired young woman named Leeloo (Milla Jovovich). She breaks out of the facility, escaping into the mostly vertical future Earth city of Productplacementopolis. Bucket-headed cops corner her on the side of a tall building. She jumps…

…and crashes through the roof of a flying taxicab driven by ex-military wisecracker Korben Dallas (Bruce Willis). For no reason (apart from his obvious admiration for his unexpected fare’s mostly uncovered physical assets) Korben helps her escape in a long, drawn-out chase filled with random gunfire, dense fog, and McDonald’s restaurants of the far-flung future. At her request, he takes her to Father Cornelius’ house. Cornelius recognizes her as the Fifth Element, the perfect being emerged from her sarcophagus to focus the power of the four elements and stop the giant ball of evil from destroying the universe. He hurries Korben out the door so that he can teach her about the modern world by hooking her up to what looks like the future version of Wikipedia. He asks her what happened to the missing element stones.

While she explains, we cut back to the Mangalores’ delivery of the stones case to our main villain, Mr. Zorg (Gary Oldman, delivering the performance by which all subsequent effeminate-hippie-millionaire-cowboy-megalomaniac-of-the-future characters will be defined). Zorg has brought the high-tech superweapons as promised, but is very perturbed to find the element stone case empty. The Mangalores state it was empty when they found it, and demand payment anyway. Zorg gives them a crate of sabotaged weapons and sends his henchman to spy on the President to find out where the stones really are.

Meanwhile, the President queries the Mondoshawans, who state that the stones are in the possession of a Diva (Diva: an operatic race of blue-skinned women with tentacles instead of hair, blatantly ripped off from the Twi’lek race of the Star Wars universe) who is about to give a performance on a luxury cruiser on a distant tropical planet. The catch: the liner is already booked, and is so exclusive that no one else can get on board, apparently not even by order of the President of the Galactic Federation. A helpful general promises to think of a plan, which unfolds thusly:

Avon calling.A radio station is holding a contest to give away the last remaining ticket to the Diva’s performance, so they pull their best operative out of retirement and rig the contest so that he wins. The operative in question is Korben Dallas. He receives his tickets but refuses to go while Father Cornelius, Zorg’s henchmen, and the angry Mangalores simultaneously try to steal them from him. He finally agrees when he discovers Leeloo is involved. He and Leeloo board a ship bound for the luxury liner.

Leeloo disappears once they arrive. She agrees with the Diva’s staff to wait until after the performance. Meanwhile, Korben attends the performance with future radio celebrity Ruby Rhod (Chris Tucker as the shrillest, gayest straight character ever conceived.) Also meanwhile, the Mangalores have shapeshifted into humans and gotten jobs on the liner as cocktail waiters. Also, also meanwhile, Zorg flies past and feigns engine trouble on his ship so that he can dock with the liner for emergency repairs.

Everyone discovers everyone else and, as you would imagine, the whole situation devolves into gunfire, martial arts, bombs, and hostages. Leeloo defeats the Mangalores to recover the new stone case, but Zorg shoots her and takes off with it. He doesn’t think to check inside until he’s out in space again; it’s empty. Meanwhile, Korben recovers the real stones from the dying Diva’s navel and gives them to Ruby while he goes to save Cornelius (who stowed away) from the remaining Mangalores. Defeated, the last Mangalore sets a bomb to destroy the liner. Everyone flees, except Zorg, who comes back for the real stones. Korben, Cornelius, Ruby, and the wounded Leeloo take off with his ship, and Zorg blows up in the doomed luxury liner.

Meanwhile, the big ball of evil begins its campaign of universal annihilation by zooming towards Earth with the intent to devour it. Korben et al. zoom off to Egypt, where they will set Leeloo up with the stones to stop it. Leeloo, in the meantime, goes back to future Wikipedia to finish her lessons about modern culture. She gets to “W”, learns about “war”, and wonders if mankind is worth saving. Korben confesses his love for her, and thus convinces her to blast the evil ball with her the energy of goodness (I think), stopping it in its tracks. They make the congratulatory President talk to Korben’s intrusive mother while they hide in a regeneration tube to make love.

Thoughts:

Not a Twi'lek.Ah, The Fifth Element. Visually brilliant, expertly (if somewhat self-indulgently) edited, decently acted, and competently written, all in the service of a story so insipidly juvenile it would get a junior high student laughed out of his elective creative writing class. Oh, and the comic relief is both hopelessly overacted and migraine-inducingly shrill, but that’s just so you’ll know it’s French. As an unabashed fan of recursive French fantasies (e.g.: Delicatessen, La Jetée, Les Triplettes de Belleville, etc.) I actually liked it before I saw it with the commentary track. With a simpler story, a bit more ambiguity, and a lot less Chris Tucker, it might have turned out really good. (Seriously, every time I watch it I cross my fingers and hope against hope that this time, this time, Tucker’s character will get his head blown clean off during the Opera House shootout.) Even without these improvements, however, it’s not a bad movie. Merely a ridiculous one.

Voice synchronization program Disembaudio speaks up so often during the commentary track that he (it?) deserves co-riffing credit. At odd intervals you can hear him/it spewing vitriol against car thieves, hustling Mike in an effort to sell him heavy weaponry, defending Kevin Federline from Mike’s constant derogatory remarks, and reveling in his love for big balls...of evil. For his part, Mike starts off the track by reminding us, “The fifth element is boron.” A short time later, he refers to the Egyptian Space Catholic as both “Fred Yoda,” and “Monsignor Butt-Ugly,” and that’s just within the first five to ten minutes of the film. There’s always something happening to make fun of, and Mike and Disembaudio are always making fun of it. The previous Rifftrax were amusing, but to my mind, this is the first hilariously funny track to become available.