It’s impossible to imagine some movies with a different cast of actors. Think of “Gone With the Wind” without Clark Gable as Rhett Butler. Or “Star Wars” without Harrison Ford as Han Solo. Or any of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” offerings, as tiring as they’ve become, without Johnny Depp doing his Keith Richards impersonation as Captain Jack Sparrow.
The same holds true for miscasting choices. Forget the ethnic-challenged cases posed by John Wayne playing Genghis Khan in “The Conqueror” or Mickey Rooney playing a stereotypical Japanese landlord – complete with buck teeth – in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” I’m talking about actors who were completely unsuitable for the roles they were hired to play. Tony Curtis as an English knight in “The Black Shield of Falworth,” for example. Or 5-feet-8-inch Tom Cruise (and I’m being generous here) as 6-feet-5-inch Jack Reacher.
You get the point. Now, consider Luc Besson, the fabulously successful French movie director whose films have more in common with Hollywood kitsch than anything vaguely European. Films such as “La Femme Nikita” and “The Fifth Element.” You’d think that Besson could get pretty much any actor he wanted to play in his films, particularly one that is – in certain respects, at least – as groundbreaking as is his adaptation of the graphic-novel series “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets.”
Why, then, did he decide to cast the moody, offbeat American actor Dane DeHaan as the title character in his film? It’s fairly clear why he cast Cara Delevingne as Valerian’s partner, Laureline. Models who evolve into actresses, as Delevingne is apparently in the process of doing, at least look good in closeups. But DeHaan? Not only should he avoid closeups, but he should avoid all roles that call for a young Harrison Ford. For all his Gen Y surliness, which made him perfect for Gore Verbinski’s “A Cure for Wellness,” a muscle-toned pretty boy DeHaan is not.
Not that he is the only thing wrong with Besson’s film. The director, who also wrote the screenplay and produced this mess, bears most the blame. His screenplay has DeHaan and Delevingne playing a pair of space cops tasked with recovering a mysterious object. In the process, they blunder into a plot that is tied to the genocide of a planet and most of its residents – emphasis on most.
But while much of the storyline is rendered in CGI effects that are amazing – and are likely even more amazing in 3D, if you decide to spend the extra money – those effects can’t cover up a couple of facts: one, that the story is derivative; and, two, it’s told in a manner that interrupts a series of near-indecipherable action sequences with ongoing, overtly clumsy attempts at making us believe that some sort of sexual tension exists between DeHaan and Delevingne.
Which even in a sci-fi movie, based on a French graphic-novel series that plays with both time and space, is too farfetched to believe. Having Captain Jack Sparrow step onto the scene would have been far more believable.