Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets Dane DeHaan, Cara Delevingne, Clive Owen. Directed by Luc Besson. Rated PG-13. Opens Friday citywide.
The plot of Luc Besson’s ultra-nutty Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets hinges on a war crime committed during a battle that’s not mentioned until nearly the end of the movie, as part of a war that is never explained or referenced. That’s an effective way to sum up the incoherent plotting of this gorgeous but often incomprehensible film, based on a long-running comic-book series beloved in Besson’s native France but fairly obscure in the U.S. Besson has shown a great flair for exuberantly nonsensical science fiction in movies like The Fifth Element and Lucy, and Valerian marks the culmination of that style, a colorful and baffling experience that’s sometimes charming but more often just exhausting.
The convoluted plot takes far too long to get moving and then gets sidelined for long stretches as intergalactic secret agents Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevingne) explore the title city, a huge space station inhabited by creatures from all over the universe. This is a movie that features Ethan Hawke as a flamboyant space pimp and Rihanna as a shape-shifting alien prostitute, yet its two leads are blank ciphers with no chemistry or charisma. Besson bounces them around dazzling and chaotic set pieces, spouting dialogue that often sounds like it was run back and forth through Google Translate a few times, and they never out-act the special effects.