I’ve come to expect very little from Private. Their pandering to bizarre Eastern European fetishes in films like Top 40 DPs and Without Limits gets worse with each film, but I had some hope for SEXth Element. A big-budget sci-fi film driven by special effects, the film could have been a genre masterpiece. Instead, its disappointing, incomprehensible storyline sinks it, making this a late entry in the competition for “Most Disappointing Film.”
I guess I should have known better than to expect anything from writer/director Andrew Curtis and executive producer Milk; they’re in too deep with the Private aesthetic. Still, I didn’t expect a film so confusing and dramatically inert that I could only say, “What?” when it faded to black. That’s the bottom line: SEXth Element has a story that makes no sense. Apparently, Curtis and Milk assume the effects will dazzle us into believing we’ve watched a Star Wars-like epic. This plunges even lower into the depths of badness than Star Whores: The Phantom Anus.
The film opens in Egypt, circa 1940, where a “professor” (Frank Gun) thinks he’s about to crack a series of complex hieroglyphics. In an effort to distract them, a mysterious priest (Beny) offers the professor and his assistant (Csoky Ice) two beautiful women (Black Angelica and Kyra Black). As they make raucous, Egyptian love (believe me, the distinction must be made), a frightening robotic race of aliens descend and take away some stone-like objects called “elements.” They inform the priest that he has not guarded the secret well enough, and that when the time comes, they will return the elements.
Flash-forward to 2230. Korben Houston (a comically miscast Antonio Ross) is a pathetic cabbie still mourning the loss of his wife (Lucy Bell). Did she die? Did they divorce? We don’t know, but we don’t have to—an intimate flashback reveals the passion he yearns to recapture. He flies away in his futuristic taxi, which for some reason has the same squealing brakes that plague my ‘91 Grand Am. I’m no expert in sound design or automobile manufacturing, but I would speculate that if there are no metal gears, there would be no squeaky brakes.
Nonetheless, while Korben’s off doing his thing, the President (Terminator) is informed of a strange object hurling toward Earth. When he sends a probe to blow it up, the thing explodes. This is followed immediately by the explosion of a visiting alien ship. If you’re thinking this will lead to futuristic intrigue, you’re mistaken. Instead, the President visits a scientist who’s invented a machine that can bring people back to life by “reproducing their chromosomes.” The doctor leaves the President alone with his assistant, Valeria (Nesty), and they have a steamy but overlong sex scene.
Afterward, the scientist brings the person back to life—it’s Leloo (Aletta Ocean), a beautiful but confused woman who can’t speak English and is terrified of other people. Perhaps now is the time to point out that nearly every cast member in this film has such a heavy, atrocious European accent that they don’t sound much like they can speak English, either. I would have much preferred a subtitled film in which they spoke their native languages. Leloo runs away from her captors, diving off the side of a building and through the roof of Korben’s cab. A slow-speed chase with the police ensues, and once Korben gets them off his tail, he attempts to interrogate Leloo. Since she can’t speak English, he opts for the next best thing: sex. (Although it’s a reasonably steamy scene, I wish they had made more of his motivation—his angst over losing his wife—so this seems slightly less like rape.)
Afterward, Leloo leads Korben to Father Vitto Cornelyus (the exceptional Richard Rifkin), who knows a lot of secrets that he won’t share with Korben. Here’s where things get a little weird: a random guy named Zorg (Lauro Giotto) pops up, claiming he’s looking for the elements. He has sex with the leader of some sort of mutant group (Regina Ice), and meanwhile the President enlists Korben’s help in tracking the elements. Somehow, he wins a trip to a neighboring planet, so the entire third act consists of deception and mistaken identity, culminating in one of the strangest threesomes I’ve ever seen. I won’t spoil it, but let’s just say it involves Leloo, a mutant (James Brossman), an airport ticket agent (Trish Brill) and an unconscious rabbi (Deep).
I’m sorry, did I say third act? I meant “Act 2.5.” See, one of the primary problems of SEXth Element is that it has no resolution. Getting to Planet Trillian and uncovering the details of the elements and why, exactly, Leloo (who is the embodiment of them) was sent to Earth now should have led us to a third act; instead, it ends on a cliffhanger as Korben arrives at the airport and reconnects with Leloo and the rabbi. I don’t know or care if a sequel is in the works—a film should work on its own merits, and SEXth Element fails any dramaturgical test thrown at it. Characters behave with no consistency, the story makes very little sense, and nothing resolves. It’s a two-hour waste of time.
There are two bright spots, however. The special effects (by Milk, Lanima Pictures and Attila Czudor) are a marvel—it’s glorious to watch even though it’s difficult to enjoy. It also must be stated that Curtis has a keen eye for women—every woman is gorgeous (including the non-sex roles), with very few implants to speak of. I just wish they could act as good as they looked.
After taking considerable time to think about it, I’ve realized the chief problem with this film: Curtis spends far too much time on the elaborate sex scenes and far too little on story. Although the women are beautiful, each scene overstays its welcome, generally following a pattern like “blowjob, vag fuck, anal fuck, eat out, blowjob again, anal again, another vag fuck,” etc. Curtis should have either shown more ingenuity in orifice usage, or he should have made each sex scene about half as long.
Like many sci-fi films, Andrew Curtis’ SEXth Element tries to rely on its stellar visual and make-up effects. You can coast on that for so long before people want more—but he’s alienated me. If I get a screener for SEXth Element 2: The Re-Sexoning, I doubt I’ll take the time to watch it.