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"VALERIAN AND THE CITY OF A THOUSAND PLANETS"
(2017) (Dane DeHaan, Cara Delevingne) (PG-13)


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QUICK TAKE:
Sci-Fi: A special operatives duo -- who are also romantic partners -- try to solve a dangerous mystery aboard a gargantuan space station filled with thousands of species of life forms.
PLOT:
It's the year 2740 and Major Valerian (DANE DeHAAN) and Sergeant Laureline (CARA DELEVINGNE) not only are work partners as intergalactic special operatives, but they're also romantically involved with each other. Their latest mission is to try to retrieve a Mül Converter -- a small creature that can replicate most anything given to it in mass quantity -- that's been stolen and is now located on a planet filled with hostile aliens. After succeeding at that, they travel to the gargantuan space station known as Alpha where thousands of life forms peacefully coexist.

They're assigned to work with Commander Arun Filitt (CLIVE OWEN) who's concerned about a mysterious energy force that's at the center of the space station and that seemingly can't be penetrated. During a meeting about just that, a small army of Mül beings -- the only survivors of their planet that was wiped out by a space war in which they were not involved -- kidnap Filitt. It's then up to Valerian and Laureline to rescue him, all of which leads to run-ins with aliens with an appetite for her, and Valerian needing help from Jolly the Pimp (ETHAN HAWKE) and his shape-shifting exotic dancer, Bubble (RIHANNA).

OUR TAKE: 3 out of 10
I've always found it fascinating to go back and watch original pilots for TV shows. Some feature completely different characters in the lead parts such as was the case for "The Dick Van Dyke Show" where it was originally titled "Head of the Family" and featured Carl Reiner as Rob Petrie and Barbara Britton as his wife. For any number of reasons, Reiner was put into another role and Dick Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore took over the leads.

Likewise, the original pilot for "Star Trek" had Jeffrey Hunter as Christopher Pike, the captain of the U.S.S. Enterprise, a role that, as everyone knows, went to William Shatner as Captain Kirk. At least for Hunter, not all was lost with the recasting as parts of the pilot were salvaged to create the subsequent episode "The Menagerie."

Of course, movies don't have pilot episodes for testing, but while watching the misguided and mishmash that is "Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets" I couldn't help but view it as cinematically akin. Lots of effort and money obviously went into the production and it's been noted as the long festering passion project of director Luc Besson. But like many a failed TV pilot, the script is a mess, the leads are miscast, and the supposed chemistry between them is flatter than flat.

The film is based on the French science fiction comics series "Valerian and Laureline" that was first published back in the 1960s and ran for more than four decades. It's been said that Besson wanted to make a film version of that even back before he helmed the slightly similar "The Fifth Element" in 1997, but he reportedly said back then that the tale was un-filmable. I'm guessing he was referring to the special effects, but maybe he was referencing the convoluted storyline (if that's how it was presented in the comic book series).

In any event, he should have continued with that assessment and given this project a pass as what he's delivered is a big ol' mess in a variety of ways both big and small. And it's a costly one at that, reportedly the most expensive independent film ever made with a price tag of nearly $200 million. As I've always said about big, expensive studio tent pole offerings -- if I were ponying up that much cash, I wouldn't want just a good film, I'd expect nothing short of brilliance. Alas, that's not the case here.

Yes, some of the special effects are decently rendered, but others are decidedly less so. The best revolve around an alien race seen early in the film (that will likely remind viewers of somewhat similar characters in "Avatar," albeit of a gentler, near albino persuasion) presumably created via actors donning performance capture suits and then having their acting transposed into digital bits. Sadly, they quickly take the back seat to the main story and its main characters, Valerian and Laureline. I have no idea how they're presented in the comics, but as portrayed by Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne they come across as pretty much unlikeable and uncharismatic leads (with that presumably not being the original intent).

Worse yet, they have zero chemistry together despite the intentions of all involved to create the sort of fictional couple that engages in some edgy and often antagonistic banter that we know is just hiding their romantic longings for one another. That's worked throughout the history of such pairings in movies, TV shows and more (think Sam and Diane on "Cheers" or Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner's characters in "Romancing the Stone"), but it completely falls flat here.

The dialogue is banal, the supposed sparks feel flat and nothing about them individually or together comes off as engaging or entertaining. It all feels incredibly forced, and you imagine if had this been a pilot episode for a sci-fi TV series, the leads would have been recast and new writers brought in to jazz up the dialogue between them.

But that's just one of many problems that bedevil the offering, from a convoluted yet somehow simultaneously far too simple storyline (where the leads play some sort of military type special ops agents assigned to solve intergalactic problems), scenes that do nothing for the overall plot and a number of cameos (notably Ethan Hawke as a pimp and Rihanna as a shape-shifting exotic dancer) that feel like nothing more than gimmicks. And don't get me started on Clive Owen who apparently believed he was acting in some cheap, B or C level sci-fi quickie, what with him chewing up the scenery with reckless abandon, or the menagerie of alien characters (including a threesome of platypus type wheeler dealers who for some reason dredge up bad memories of Howard the Duck) that feel like a rip-off of the "Star Wars" universe.

Do yourself a favor and go back and watch that tale of Luke, Leia, and Vader rather than sit and suffer through this colossal misfire. Perhaps with recasting and a better script, "Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets" might have had a chance. As is stands, you'll wish you were on any of those other planetary orbs rather than this one watching hundreds of millions of dollars being flushed down the loo. The film rates as a 3 out of 10.




Reviewed July 12, 2017 / Posted July 21, 2017


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