We must begin this brief line of thought on Chris Tucker's electric performance in Luc Besson's 1997 The Fifth Element with a little background on what I call the black elegance movement in black popular music. The moment for black elegance was from 1982 to 1988. It was formed by two streams that go back to the late 1970s. Chic initiated the first stream, and the Time initiated the second and stronger stream. From the Time we get the super-producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. From Jam and Lewis we get the major records of R&B group S.O.S. Band. The S.O.S. Band draws its cosmopolitan look from Chic and its post-disco sound from the Time, whose lead singer is Morris Day, Prince's archrival in the masterpiece of '80s popular culture Purple Rain and also the less remembered and appreciated Graffiti Bridge.
Though connected with the Time, and coming from the same city, Minneapolis, Prince broke with the black elegance movement on one point: He blurred the line between male and female roles. With black elegance, sexuality is stable; the women aspire to be ladies ("Let girls be girls"), and the men aspire to be gentlemen ("Let boys be boys"). Prince, as the culture critic Steve Shaviro has pointed out in a number of his lectures, is not only sexually unstable but also racially so—he is not altogether black or altogether white. Prince's business is to mix everything; even his music constantly disturbs clear codes, clear roles, clear borders—rock to funk, punk to soul, psychedelia to R&B.
In the first of two movies he directed, Under the Cherry Moon, the movie that discovered a very young Kristin Scott Thomas, he even named the main character, whom he plays, Christopher Tracy—again, male codes and female codes melded, blended, confused. My point in all of this is that if you want to really appreciate Tucker's performance of Ruby Rhod in The Fifth Element, you have to see it in the context of Prince and his vaporous sexuality and music.
Indeed, Prince was the inspiration for Ruby Rhod, and the director, Besson, wanted him to play the role. He could revisit the delicious extravagances of Christopher Tracy, and even wear a totally nutty and diaphanous costume designed by Jean Paul Gaultier. Prince did not like the costume (he described it as too effeminate!), and he turned down the role that would immortalize Chris Tucker for millions. He simply stole the movie, which, to be honest, was not hard to do because The Fifth Element is not great. Rhod's funky walk, his ridiculous fast talk, his popping sexual energy, his blurring between straight and gay, his uppity entourage: All of this is just a remix of Morris Day and the Time, and Prince and Tricky (Christopher Tracy's mirror man—meaning, the man who holds up the mirror for Tracy). In The Fifth Element, the standard Chris Tucker shtick vanishes in the galactic Prince on a spaceship to the stars.