Combustible Celluloid
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With: Dane DeHaan, Cara Delevingne, Ethan Hawke, Clive Owen, Rihanna, Rutger Hauer, Mathieu Kassovitz, Aymeline Valade, Elizabeth Debicki, John Goodman, Kris Wu, Sam Spruell, Diva Cam, Alexandre Willaume, Herbie Hancock
Written by: Luc Besson, based on comics by Pierre Christin, Jean-Claude Mézières
Directed by: Luc Besson
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sci-fi violence and action, suggestive material and brief language
Running Time: 137
Date: 07/21/2017

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Best Laid 'Planets'

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Luc Besson's Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets sports a reported budget of around $200 million, but seems cheaper.

It has the mood of an enthusiastic kid playing in the backyard, inspired by popular space operas and alien escapades.

In other words, Valerian is a jaunty, bright, dizzy sci-fi film of imagination and dazzle, following in the skywalking footsteps of the old, original Star Wars and Star Trek adventures.

Inspired by a French comic series by Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mézières, the movie is set somewhere in the 28th century. The title city is called Alpha, and it consists of a mass of ships from all over the universe, docked together and sharing each other's knowledge.

Faithful agent Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and his intrepid partner Laureline (Cara Delevingne) are the movie's co-heroes.

Unfortunately, there is some kind of radiation-related trouble at Alpha's core. It's related to a mysterious race of extinct aliens, a small creature that can replicate matter, a power source, and corrupt officials.

Fortunately, it's all an excuse for Valerian and Laureline to rush headlong into trouble, rescue each other, and get into chases and escapes.

Their stops include a giant marketplace that exists in an alternate dimension, a red light district — where pop star Rihanna plays a pole-dancing shape-shifter — and a realm where humans are forbidden, and where a cranky, hungry creature rules.

In a weirdly old-fashioned, screwball subplot, Valerian keeps asking Laureline to marry him, and she continually brushes him off.

DeHaan has an intense, brooding quality that serves him well in films like Kill Your Darlings, Metallica: Through the Never, and A Cure for Wellness, but doesn't quite translate into a Han Solo-like cocky swagger here. He tries too hard.

Delevingne, on the other hand, is no great thespian, but she is a pretty fashion model, and she brings a kind of Barbarella/Galaxina-like cheesy sex appeal to her plucky Laureline.

Writer/director Besson has lately become something like a 21st century Roger Corman, or a one-man Golan & Globus, cranking out tons of genre films, some of them, like the Transporter trilogy and Lucy, quite good.

On all of them, he brings a sense of fluid, lucid action, bright, vivid color (bucking the current trend for a gray, sludgy look), and a strong sense of space.

Granted, Valerian is not particularly smart, and it's way too long; it can't keep up its bouncy fun for a bladder-busting 137 minutes. Even so, a little forgiveness goes a long way with this one.

Lionsgate's Blu-ray release looks incredible, given the movie's highly digital, incredibly-designed look, and the soundtrack is awesome to boot. It comes with "enhancement mode," wherein a viewer can access featurettes during the movie, and there is an hour-long making-of documentary as well as stills and trailers. The set comes with a DVD and a digital copy.

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