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“Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” is a beguiling space oddity that doesn’t usually work, but is a campy delight when it does.

Writer-director Luc Besson already made one whacked-out future epic with 1997’s “The Fifth Element” and should have left well enough alone. Here he tries to out-daffy that certifiably bonkers ride and mostly comes up flat, although the film has an inspired visual sensibility that explodes off the screen. Even when you don’t care what’s going on, which is often, it’s still pretty incredible to watch.

On a planet that resembles a spring break version of “Avatar’s” Pandora, creatures that resemble shell-cased hedgehogs shed pearls when tickled just so. Turns out these pearls are the key to life, maybe? They figure heavily into the mission of Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevingne), young operatives out to save the universe and maybe share a kiss.

One of “Valerian’s” major problems is the casting of DeHaan and Delevingne, who are supposed to be flirtatious young lovers, but get on like two constantly bickering siblings. They’re never on the same page — DeHaan is too cocky in his swagger, Delevingne too huffy in her exasperation — and together, they’re an interplanetary charisma vacuum.

Here’s what does work: Rihanna as an amorphous blob who takes the form of, well, Rihanna; Ethan Hawke as a seedy intergalactic pimp; and the stunning opening sequence (set to David Bowie’s “Space Oddity”) that sets up the story of the “City of a Thousand Planets,” a coalition of hundreds of species that is introduced in a simple, hilarious forward.

“Valerian” is bursting with imagination and visual chutzpah. You come away admiring the effort while lamenting the execution, but swinging and missing is always better than not swinging at all.

agraham@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2284

@grahamorama

‘Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets’

GRADE: C+

Rated PG-13 for sci-fi violence and action, suggestive material and brief language

Running time: 137 minutes

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