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KIDS ON FILM

Bruce, Boom Fans in Their 'Element'

May 22, 1997|LYNN SMITH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NEWPORT BEACH — In "The Fifth Element," a taxi driver (Bruce Willis) in the 23rd century joins forces with a beautiful alien to save the universe from a powerful evil determined to wipe out all life forever. (Rated PG-13)

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Another Bruce Willis movie, another round of big guns, smirks, explosions, more smirks. And the little ones aren't bored yet.

Kids who liked Willis' old "Die Hard" brand of cartoon action liked this too, particularly since this time it all takes place in outer space and introduces some fantastic new aliens. You have your multi-armed diva whose blood literally runs blue; your insect-headed, armored, good-guy creatures; and your goofy, dog-like villains who can morph into human form at will. It was all so much fun that some 10- and 11-year-old boys from Laguna Niguel, who saw the movie on a birthday outing, said they didn't even mind the kissing scene.

"There was a lot of action. It was funny and I liked it," concluded Michael Kristie, who had just turned 11. He and his father, Chas, had seen the trailer and decided the movie would be great for a birthday bash. Mother Susan went along with good natured resignation but noted: "It's not my cup of tea."

Susan Kristie rolled her eyes as her son described his favorite scene, in which the dog-like Mangalores learns to use a high-tech multi-automatic weapon with "a net, a flame thrower, a freeze and whistles," Michael said. "It was cool."

Johnny Riskas, 11, had a similar response: "I liked it because there were a lot of guns and explosions."

As his friends made enthusiastic rat-a-tat sounds, Jason Metzler, also 11, described his favorite scene: "It was cool when they blow up the whole cruise ship thing."

Could this be a guy thing? Why even ask? "Yeah!" the kids chorused. "You bet!" Michael said.

The lone girl in the birthday party, 10-year-old Jenny Ross, said she liked the movie too, particularly a concluding scene in which Willis pilots a spacecraft away from the burning cruise ship and into light speed.

Other girls might like it, Jenny said, depending on what "their hobbies are. For Mike and Johnny, it's blowing up and killing and guns."

It probably takes a kid to figure out the plot: Apparently Willis is a retired Marine, now driving a cab, who finds himself fighting the ultimate forces of evil, represented on Earth by Zorg (Gary Oldman). The only thing that will stop Zorg's forces from destroying all life in the universe is a fifth element, added to the usual four. The fifth element seems to be the supernaturally "perfect" Leeloo (Milla Jovovich), a nearly naked redhead who lands in Willis' cab and speaks a strange language that sounds a lot like Italian.

As in the "Die Hard" series, the tone is cartoonish and spoof-like. Some parents thought that took the edge off the violence. Still, news images from real wars appear as Leeloo learns about war, and there are potentially frightening scenes of a black fireball hurtling toward Earth. Willis' hero is the sort who shoots first and asks questions later. (He walks into a negotiation with a hidden gun, shoots his adversary, then says with a smirk: "Anybody else want to negotiate?")

Much of the humor plays off stereotypes. The only character Willis can't seem to handle is his mother, who dogs him with annoying telephone messages ("What's the matter, your fingers broken? Can't punch my numbers?"). The boys said they enjoyed an effeminate disc jockey/talk show host (Chris Tucker) who reports on Willis' adventures, saying he reminded them of Dennis Rodman.

The plot is only an excuse for the special effects, used to describe not only aliens from outer space but also everyday living in Brooklyn, a city of high-rises so tall that cars fly through space vertically and horizontally. The kids particularly appreciated a two-dimensional car chase and a fly-through McDonald's circa 2214. "I don't think it's going to be exactly like that," said 11-year-old Chase Morgan. "I think it will be something like that."

While the kids enjoyed the effects, some called the movie a second-rate "Star Wars"--more explosions and more action, less sophistication. Chase said the portrayal of light speed in "Star Wars" is more exciting because the viewers seem to be traveling through the stars. In "The Fifth Element," the craft is shown going faster across the screen. Still, he said, "this is probably like my second favorite movie. I really liked 'Star Wars,' and I don't think anything can pass 'Star Wars.' "

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