A tanker truck full of bio-hazardous material is detonated in the midst of rush-hour traffic and scores of people die. That might sound like a terrorist attack, but in fact it occurs in an atmospherically controlled Martian city in the year 2071. Welcome to Cowboy Bebop, the dubbed-up, big-screen transmutation of Cartoon Network’s imported Japanese anime series about an intergalactic gang of bounty hunters. The line-up includes beefy cyborg Jet (voiced by Beau Billingslea), nonchalant hipster Spike (Steven Jay Blum), sassy and scantily clad Faye (Wendee Lee), and an androgynous computer hacker named Ed (a gonzo Melissa Charles). But it’s not until a $300 million (Martian currency) bounty is issued that our heroes go after the enigmatic terrorist, who has engaged lethal nanotechnology in a plot to eradicate human life from the planet.
Under Shinichirô Watanabe’s direction, the animation is jazzy and æsthetically mesmerizing. The retro-hip futurescape is brilliantly detailed and infused with an intriguing mélange of ethno-cultural influences. Unfortunately, the characters go no deeper than their two dimensions and are imbued with lackadaisical MTV sarcasm. The whole extravaganza could have made for a plucky 70 minutes, but it packs on an additional three-quarters of an hour of saw-toothed melodrama. (116 minutes)