Based on one of the most popular and stylish animé series of recent years, "Cowboy Bebop: The Movie: Knockin' on Heaven's Door" is closer in tone and content to the film noir detective movies of the '40s than to the upbeat musical fairy tales of American animated features.
"Space cowboy" and bounty hunter Spike Spiegel (voiced by Steven Jay Blum) has to head off a deadly scheme that menaces the human colony of Alba City on 22nd century Mars. What should be the routine capture of a two-bit cyber crook by brunet bombshell Faye Valentine (Wendee Lee) escalates into a murderous game of cat-and-mouse as Spike pursues Vincent Volaju (Daran Norris) through a bleak dystopia.
The survivor of a program of military biomedical experiments, Victor plans to release a plague of microscopic robots that will kill every human on the planet. With some help from his partner, Jet Black (Beau Billingslea), ace hacker Edward Wong (Melissa Fahn), beautiful Elektra Ovirowa (Jennifer Hale), Faye and Ein the "data dog," Spike must outwit Victor -- and save Mars.
Unlike the recent "Patlabor WXIII: The Movie," which tried to turn a comic sci-fi TV program into a thriller, "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" preserves the look and tone that have made the "Cowboy Bebop" series so popular on both sides of the Pacific. The running time of almost two hours allows screenwriter Keiko Nobumoto to explore the characters in greater depth and prolong the suspense. Director Shinichiro Watanabe handles the action sequences with his accustomed panache, and composer Yoko Kanno's moody jazz score evokes Spike's alienated personality.
"Cowboy Bebop: The Movie" demonstrates how exciting and vital contemporary animated filmmaking is in Japan. The characters may not move with the fluidity of their American counterparts, but the story unfolds with a sinister grace that any live-action director might envy.
'Cowboy Bebop: The Movie'
MPAA rating: R, for some violent images.
Times guidelines: Violence, brief nudity and language
A Sunrise, Bones and Bandai Visual production, released by Destination Films and Samuel Goldwyn Films. Director Shinichiro Watanabe. Producers Masuo Ueda, Masahiko Minami, Minoru Takanashi. Executive producers Takayuki Yoshii, Ryohei Tsunoda. Screenplay by Keiko Nobumoto. Translation Rika Takahashi/ZRO Limit. Cinematographer Yoichi Ogami. Editor Shuichi Kakesu. Character design and animation direction Toshihiro Kawamoto. Music Yoko Kanno. Art director Atsushi Morikawa. Set design Shiho Takeuchi. English-language version. Running time: 1 hour, 56 minutes.