It’s impossible to read any commentary about Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, director Luc Besson’s interpretation of the 1967 French sci-fi comic series, without the inevitable reference to Besson’s last foray into space: 1997’s cult classic The Fifth Element.

Let’s get this out of the way: Valerian is no Fifth Element. While the visual effects stun, the acting is clunky, the story is half-baked, and the dialogue is dated and cheesy.

The dated feeling is especially problematic because Besson strives to take us on an intergalactic space battle some 700 years in the future. And ironically the cast is fresh-faced a well. Our two leads, Major Valerian (played by Dane DeHaan) and his ever-playing-hard-to-get partner Sergeant Laureline (played my model Cara Delevigne), don’t read as day over 19. But Valerian is just so lame (and dare we say, pathetic) in his attempt to grab Laureline’s attention. His one-liners feel more like Archie Cunningham in Happy Days than, uh, whatever the 2017 version of hitting on a girl in a diner looks like. At least DeHann and Delevinge have some chemistry, despite the awkward script, because the first 30 minutes or so of the movie is just Valerian chasing a bikini-clad Laureline around a virtual beach. It’s hard to tell if this is supposed to be character development or comic relief, because neither end is quite achieved.

But eventually we get to the unfortunate way the earth is at risk this time: The planet Mül was carelessly destroyed as collateral damage in an intergalactic battle its inhabitants had nothing to do with. Its last remaining refugees escape on an airship, but they long for the beautiful white sands and beautiful shores of their homeland, and will stop at nothing to get it back. Valerian and Laureline are thrown into the mix to protect their federation’s own interests — but it turns out they don’t quite have the whole story.

Let’s be honest: Not every sci-fi flick can be an Arrival and tell a great story while making probing questions about the human condition. But what kills Valerian isn’t really its lack of a meaningful plot, but how painful it is to get from Point A to Point Z. The film’s concept is based on the graphic novel Valerian and Laureline by Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mézières (whose comics also served as inspiration for The Fifth Element). The illustrator has said in interviews that the ideas for creating a Valerian film started back in ’97 when The Fifth Element was birthed. It’s almost like the script was written back then without revision. Laureline is sassy and irreverent (which Delevigne adequately portrays, if not going much deeper), but Laureline is just not a 2017 character. In a summer where we’re hailing Wonder Woman as one of the best superhero movies in quite some time, it feels like a step back to have a female lead who walks around in a bikini and carries a briefcase across a beach (cue Delevigne’s long blonde locks flowing in the wind) as her contribution to the mission, while Valerian embarks on a pretty badass Matrix-like interdimensional street battle. But it’s the dialogue that really kills it. These two young stars are young and attractive, and they’re given lines like “Predictable? Clearly, you’ve never met a woman.” The script is sprinkled liberally with one-liners, and my fully packed theater didn’t laugh once.

The costume design wasn’t much better. Valerian and Laureline, when they’re not in their beach attire trying to get in each other’s pants (oh kids these days), have Star Trek-esque uniforms (except here they’re in Army-fatique green). The outfits feel stiff and impractical — much like the rest of the movie.

What doesn’t feel dated is the CGI and visual effects. Like a modern-day Matrix, Valerian must put on a special arm piece to be transported to another dimension, one that has the psychedelic colors and childlike feel of Super Mario Kart’s Rainbow Road (except y’know with really scary dudes shooting guns instead of magical mushrooms) mixed with some killer acrobatic camera angles Besson could have only dreamed of for The Fifth Element. In a movie with no character development and a weak script, the vivid and imaginative fight sequences are the movie’s highlight.

Our other highlight is a cameo by singer Rihanna, who brings some much needed star power to the film. As an immigrant-turned-professional adult dancer/shapeshifter, Rihanna brings both humor and some of the only emotionally impactful moments of the film. While Delevigne’s Laureline is never quite believable (she seems prone to these exaggerated facial expressions that may work well in theater, or well, modeling), Rihanna’s sassy burlesque interpretation of Bubble somehow delivers both sass and pathos (it turns out alien women who have to turn to pole dancing for a buck aren’t all too different from their human counterparts). Thank god she’s there to get us to the film’s climax.

But we get there, and much like The Fifth Element, the key to saving the universe is more or less human compassion — a fine enough conclusion. Maybe the reason The Fifth’s Element ride to that conclusion is less painful is because one of its leads is still learning to talk. Because Valerian, beautifully animated and shot, loses it glimmer when the characters wade their way through one hell of an awkward script. Who knows? Maybe in 2760, the by-golly humor of the 1960s will have made a comeback, and Valerian will have been right on the mark. But, unfortunately, that doesn’t save this movie for audiences in 2017.