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With The Fifth Element, Luc Besson swipes from science fiction past to create a slick, vacuous future

Willis is essentially doing a reprise of his Die Hard heroics, and his bag of tricks -- the tiny half-smiles and droning self-mutterings -- are the actor's action-movie equivalent of minimalism. He can be marvelous, but he knows he doesn't need to be here; he winks his way through the movie until he gets to blow things up real good and Die Hard-like. Perhaps directors like using Willis in their futuristic fantasias because he can seem knowing yet hulky. He's a wised-up Everyman, jerky but fun, and his jock allure allows him to stand in for us in these stranger-in-a-strange-land escapades. But in his last sci-fi outing, 12 Monkeys, Willis brought some depth to the strangeness. He seemed ravaged by his predicament as an ordinary man out of time. In The Fifth Element he's just marking time.

I realize that practically all science fiction, even the goofiest, has to have its mite of seriousness -- something cautionary to keep us earthlings on our toes. But the high-toned stuff in The Fifth Element is especially jarring because it directly contradicts the spirit of the rest of the movie. When Leeloo, with her superhuman brain, finally absorbs into her cranium the vast history of Earth's warfare, she's so crestfallen she can't fight anymore. "Everything you create, you destroy," she cries out.

Funny -- the people who made this movie are busy destroying everything they create, too. Leeloo may not be much of a supreme being, but she has a promising future as a movie critic.

The Fifth Element.
Directed by Luc Besson.
With Bruce Willis, Gary Oldman and Milla Jovovich.
Rated PG-13.
127 minutes.

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