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Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

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What's it rated? PG-13

What's it worth? Rental

Where's it showing? Downtown Centre, Sunset Drive In, Stadium 10, Park, Galaxy

Luc Besson (La Femme Nikita, The Fifth Element, Lucy) directs this comic book-based sci-fi adventure about special operatives Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevingne) who must safeguard Alpha, a sprawling space-city that's home to species from a thousand planets.

That sounds like a fairly simply plot, but Besson complicates it to the point of chaos, apparently trying to one-up himself over The Fifth Element. He does not succeed.

Look, the Frenchman has made a lot of good films, a few truly excellent ones, and a lot of fun, creative, but ultimately slight flicks, which is where I'd rank Valerian. It's not terrible, it looks fantastic, and it bears Besson's deep creativity, but in addition to the overcomplicated plot and the bloated story at nearly two hours and twenty minutes, the film is seriously miscast.

DeHaan simply doesn't exude the roguish charm the Valerian character demands, and Delevingne doesn't have the toughness and feminism to embody Laureline. You know who would have made this film sing? Raiders of the Lost Ark-era Harrison Ford and Karen Allen, that's who! DeHaan and Delevingne don't have the chemistry or delivery to pull off the banter Besson has constructed for the duo.

The story's conflict revolves around a peaceful species of humanoids living in harmony with nature on their beachy planet, where they rejuvenate the environment by offering tribute through feeding a curious little creature a pearl harvested from their pristine seas. The creature then spills out dozens more of the energy-filled pearls. Valerian sees all this in a dream, which ends violently with the planet's destruction.

Who destroyed their planet and why? That's what the film slowly (and I mean s l o w l y) reveals, touching on environmental themes, the rights of indigenous people, and imperialism. It gets unnecessarily preachy and didactic at the end. Meanwhile, we're supposed to be caring about the so-called romance between Valerian and Laureline, which never rings true.

But let's talk a minute about why this film might be worth seeing in the theater: Rihanna. The pop star offers a remarkable song and dance performance that's mesmerizing. Even though as it began it seemed like a huge, unnecessary tangent, it turned out to be central to the plot. Rihanna stars as Bubble, a shape-shifting species being pimped out by a huckster named Jolly (Ethan Hawke, having a blast!). She and Valerian have to team up in the end to try to save Laureline. It's really the film's highlight.

As a visual feast, this film delivers, and if that's enough for you, pony up your ticket money and go, but in the grand scheme of Besson's frequently remarkable oeuvre, Valerian will probably remain a footnote. (137 min.)

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