Cowboy Bebop: The Movie

Cowboy Bebop: The Movie

A good four-fifths of the fun of Shinichirô Watanabe's innovative Japanese-animation TV series Cowboy Bebop was derived from its style and attitude, from the over-the-top swaggering of its antiheroes to its flashy animation and genre-leaping, tone-setting music. Much of the rest of the series' allure came from its offbeat sense of humor, which occasionally eclipsed its commitment to plot or continuity. Many of the series' 26 episodes ended without resolution; they didn't always have satisfying stories, but they never let go of their dedication to chic mystique. Which is why the long-awaited cinematic spin-off's plodding allegiance to plot makes the film a bit unsatisfying. Cowboy Bebop: The Movie takes place before the end of the series, when casual bounty-hunting partners Spike Spiegel and Jet Black and their obnoxious hangers-on (bounty-hunting bitch-queen/gambling reprobate Faye Valentine and psychotic child-hacker Ed Wong) permanently parted ways. In the film, they're still working together, to the extent that they ever were; novice viewers can readily pick up the movie's plot threads, so long as they understand that even longtime fans don't necessarily understand the main characters' uncommunicative, uncooperative cooperation. The film opens as the protagonists' spaceship, the Bebop, arrives on Mars. There, Spike and Jet manage a small score by stopping a convenience-store robbery, but Faye misses her latest target when his truck explodes on a freeway off-ramp, releasing an unknown substance that kills hundreds. The Martian government responds by placing a huge bounty on anyone responsible. The Bebop's crewmembers all start following the money, in the process uncovering a complicated plot and a cold-hearted criminal whose actions seem to have more to do with maintaining a monstrous façade than forwarding any tangible agenda. But while he himself fits neatly into Cowboy Bebop's cult of personality, his cluttered backstory doesn't. Cowboy Bebop: The Movie spends far too much of its two-hour length laboriously chasing down plot threads, particularly given that they never cohere. A number of eye-popping setpieces--a pointless but pretty aerial duel, a series of stylish hand-to-hand battles--reconfirm the series' dedication to loose-limbed animation and seductive visual choreography. But Jet seems to be right when he suggests that the Bebop crew is delving into a planet-sized problem that's both too large for them and none of their business. By its end, the film has begun to feel like a standard cop movie with the Bebop characters awkwardly grafted into the key roles. The series' avant-garde flair is still evident in the movie's external touches, from its diverse soundtrack to its characters' flamboyant recklessness. But beneath all the style is a confused stab at substance. The ambition is laudable, but the execution is wanting, and the attempt itself may indicate that Watanabe and company have forgotten what made Cowboy Bebop so much fun.

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