I’ve seen some bad movies this year. Two could easily be debated as the worst films of the 21st century. For the record, those would be Tom Cruise’s baffling disaster “The Mummy” and the painfully unfunny comedy “Rough Night” with Scarlet Johansson. They were so terrible it’s a wonder just how so many creative and cinematic experts could allow something that awful to be released into theaters. Surely, someone knew the films were hot garbage—only to be released under financial obligations. I am sure they hoped to sell enough tickets before people realized they were being scammed. Well, folks, the new Luc Besson film, “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets,” makes “The Mummy” and “Rough Night” look like a pleasant walk through a field of lilacs.
My average review comes in at about 750 words—maybe more if a film really elicits a reaction, maybe less if I’m struggling to find any positive or negative enthusiasm. I’m not sure if encore has a high-enough page count to contain all the hate I have for this overblown, wretched piece of flaming, bedazzled excrement. What’s so troubling about my feelings is the hilarious level of interest I had in seeing this movie before it came out.
I love Luc Besson. “The Professional” is on my list of top 10 movies of all time. Yes, I unabashedly love it and have seen it easily over 30 times. Besson is a filmmaker who has made some interesting movies during his career, including the action classic “La Femme Nikita” and the corny, ridiculously fun “The Fifth Element.” Not everything he touches turns to gold. He’s made less-than-stellar movies, like “The Messenger” and “Lucy.” More often than not, though, he’s interesting and has a distinct style. When I heard he was heading back into the world of science fiction, I was excited.
The results are mind-blowing, in the worst way possible. I’ll try to tackle the issues in order of importance. First up, the casting. I can’t remember a movie so completely decimated by awful thespians. Dane DeHaan might be the most unlikable leading man I’ve ever seen in a movie. It’s like someone took Keanu Reeves and ran him through a strainer, rinsing away charisma and personality. Think of an evolutionary chart: If Keanu Reeves is on the right, representing the modern stoic blockbuster-leading mean, Dane DeHaan would be on the other side as the hunched-over devolved version. Channing Tatum and Paul Walker would be somewhere between the two. Basically, Dane DeHaan is the homo erectus of the movie-star world. His expressions are awkward, and his line delivery is so free of energy, every sentence he utters sounds like it’s coming from someone who just finished a marathon. His co-star, Cara Delevingne, isn’t going to win any acting awards either, but she at least gave effort to craft some kind of performance.
The writing doesn’t help either of them, either, as they are forced to deliver one cringe-worthy line after the next. The script sounds like it was written by a 10-year-old after freebasing a case of pixie sticks and Pepsi. And that almost seems insulting to 10-year-olds who have produced far more engaging videos than any 5 minutes of “Valerian.”
The plot involves a giant city, housing all races of the universe. Something is threatening the existence of this universal version of Epcot and only Valerian (DeHaan) and Lauralene (Delevingne) can prevent impending destruction. Besson provides a lot of eye-popping visuals, but the characters within the story are bad. The idea of creating this beautiful cinematic world where anything can happen, and then plopping two boring cardboard cutouts as tour guides, feels more wasted than a vat of bacon fat at a vegan food festival.
At about the halfway mark, stunned by the malaise of insipid nonsense to which I was being subjected—and just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse—Rhianna shows up. And that’s when things get knocked into 12th gear. Rihanna’s brief 15 minutes in the movie may be the worst portrayal of anything ever in any performance medium since cavemen did shadow puppets on cave walls. She’s a Shop-Vac, sucking in what little energy the movie has and deposits it into a septic tank of cinematic history. Her performance in “Valerian” is like the video from “The Ring.” I’m convinced in six more days Rhianna is going to crawl out of my television and eat my soul.
Do not go see “Valerian.” Do not rent it when it comes out on Redbox in six weeks—or watch it once it becomes available on a streaming service. I wish I had one of those neuralizers from “Men in Black” to erase any and all memory of this movie, but only after tracking down every digital file of the film and pouring acid on the servers that house it.