'Cowboy Bebop' review: Over-the-top and very entertaining
SERIES "Cowboy Bebop"
WHERE Streaming on Netflix
WHAT IT'S ABOUT Spike Spiegel (John Cho) and Jet Black (Mustafa Shakir) are a pair of bounty hunters who bounce around the solar system on Spike's rust-bucket of a rocket ship, soon joined by Faye Valentine (Daniella Pineda). Spike and Jet have mysterious pasts but they are bound by a need to make money — a lot of it and fast. In fact, a little is known about those pasts — Spike's in particular. He was formerly a hit man with the mob, or "Syndicate," but his partner doesn't know that (yet). As they move from planet to planet, including a terraformed Mars, Spike keeps running into his former colleagues, including a particularly brutal bad guy named Vicious (Alex Hassell).
This live-action series is based on the popular sci-fi neo-noir animé of the same name, which was produced by Shinichirō Watanabe who serves as a consultant on this ten-parter, produced by André Nemec ("Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol") and written by Christopher Yost ("Thor: Ragnarok").
MY SAY "Bebop" is like nothing you've ever seen and like everything you've ever seen. There's some Sam Peckinpah, Quentin Tarantino and Sergio Leone sprinkled about here, along with elements of every buddy cop movie (especially "Rush Hour") and kindred TV show ever put to film. Mix in some "Riddick," "Guardians of the Galaxy," "Raising Arizona," "Barb Wire," "Midnight Run," "For a Few Dollars More" and most of the movies starring Dwayne (The Rock) Johnson and all those with Hans Solo and Chewbacca.
Put this mess into a blender, hit the hi-speed button, sit back and watch "Cowboy Bebop" come into focus: A wildly over-the-top grindhouse of a TV show that's stuffed with stock-issue genre cliches, glib one-liners, and operatic violence.
"Bebop" is at least self-assured enough never to take itself too seriously — as if it could — which makes it unique, or at least fun. And as part of a vast effluvium of pop culture, "Bebop" still somehow remains apart from it too. That's a credit to the bebop music score (from the original series composer Yoko Kanno) and a production team that clearly spent every dime it got on SFX and martial arts trainers. Yost and his writers also know how to craft sharp dialogue that sounds original but probably isn't entirely either.
The formula also works here because the leads do. Instead of the usual bromance, Spike and Jet are stuck in a failed business partnership. Their banter is barbed and prickly, shot through with a vein of well-founded suspicion. They like each other and also have well-founded reasons to distrust each other. Jet is a kindhearted single dad with a bionic arm, alimony payments and feckless partner. In between jobs — invariably botched — all he wants is to find the perfect birthday gift for his cute daughter. By contrast, Spike is well-matched to the name he went by when he was with the syndicate ("Fearless") but also has a wit — a little more Dorothy Parker than Django. He's got a heart too, just a lot better hidden than Spike's.
Meanwhile, this version doesn't drift too far from its source material but far enough away to secure its own footing. As a live-action adaptation of a hugely popular series, it's often jauntier and funnier than the root stock, the violence even more outlandish and cartoonish. Hardcore fans of the animé series may be disappointed by the liberties taken but a much wider audience — the one that never watched animé — probably won't be.
BOTTOM LINE Flat-out entertaining.