Fab French nutball director Luc Besson will try anything. But that doesn’t mean he can get away with everything. In his gonzo science-fiction extravaganza Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets–adapted from the graphic-novel series Valérian et Laureline by Pierre Christin and illustrator Jean-Claude Mézières–he reaches for the stars and comes away with a messy, if occasionally entertaining, cosmic dustheap.
Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne star as hipster space spies Valerian and Laureline, sent to undertake a brave mission: saving the sprawling space station Alpha from enemy forces. Alpha isn’t a ship but rather an intergalactic republic. As with most intergalactic republics, there’s always some power-mad individual seeking control. In this case, that megalomaniac might be Clive Owen’s Commander Arün Filitt, though it’s hard to tell exactly what Filitt wants, no matter how convincingly he scowls and glowers. Valerian and Laureline dash aimlessly through the movie’s needlessly complicated plot. Although, as with so many of Besson’s mad creations (among them Lucy and The Fifth Element), the plot is beside the point. Besson loads the picture with enough loopy visual splendor to keep us pleasurably distracted for long stretches. The opening montage, a thumbnail history of how Alpha came to be, is a particularly absurd delight: a parade of increasingly bizarre-looking creatures from far-flung planets arrive to shake hands with Alpha’s welcoming human founders, even though the appendages they proffer bear little or no resemblance to actual hands.
DeHaan and Delevingne drift through the film looking disengaged and distracted. Their chief acting tool is a kind of implied eye rolling. The main reason to see Valerian is for Rihanna’s small but show-stealing role as a soft-spoken blue blob named Bubble, an enslaved alien who can assume any number of enticing human forms. In her whopper of a performance number, she morphs from flirty latex-clad nurse to naughty Lolita schoolgirl to ’70s roller-disco princess. She’s off the charts and out of this world.
This appears in the July 31, 2017 issue of TIME.