In this feature-length episode of the phenomenally popular anime series, "cowboy" equals "bounty hunter," "bebop" is the name of the bounty hunters' space ship, and the action takes place a few hundred years from now on Mars, where colonists have created a multi-ethnic metropolis resembling a patchwork of every major city on earth (it has its own Eiffel Tower, for instance, and the hobos down by the train tracks are tipi-dwelling Native Americans).

Spike is the gang's leader, a stylish, stretched-out looking kid who wanders blithely into trouble but always gets out of it. This time, he has stumbled across a bio-terrorist plot involving

Faye Valentine in Cowboy Bebop
a demented veteran of the Mars Army and nano-robots that behave like a potent airborne virus. Can he and his cowboy team - the muscle-bound father figure, the scantily clad tough girl, and the extraordinarily annoying hacker kid who spews non-sequiturs - save the planet?

Of course they can - but it will take a while. For audiences not obsessed with the world of Japanese animation, Cowboy Bebop is a real trial, with speechifying villains and endless exposition. Forty minutes could be trimmed from the nearly two-hour film without doing a bit of damage to the plot, and it is hard to argue that this padding is in the service of some kind of contemplative mood. (Investigation reveals that in the middle of production, the filmmakers decided to stretch 90 minutes to two hours.) Surprisingly,

Dir. Shinichiro Watanabe; writ. Keiko Nobumoto; feat. voices of Steven Jay Blum, Beau Billingslea, Wendee Lee, Mellisa Fahn, Daran Norris, Jennifer Hale (R)
though, very little of this running time is given over to action sequences.

Still, the film has a look and feel that is deliciously cool. From the imaginative mimicry of live-action film language - striking wide-angle compositions, slow-motion point-of-view shots, overhead camera angles, and so on - to stylized character design and smart little touches in the futuristic world they inhabit, Bebop is among the more enticing sci-fi anime inventions out there. JOHN DEFORE


It is hard to justify another take on The In-Laws, which starred Peter Falk and Alan Arkin, by any of the usual rules of Hollywood commerce. The original does not subject innocent Americans to the indignity of subtitles, its vintage - 1979 - is not antique, and its Andrew Bergman screenplay is not exactly Hamlet, a golden challenge to the acting guild. The In-Laws has been remade apparently because Michael Douglas wanted to remake it - and when Douglas takes an interest, studio

Dir. Andrew Fleming; writ. Andrew Bergman (original), Nat Mauldin, Ed Solomon; feat. Michael Douglas, Albert Brooks, Ryan Reynolds, Lindsay Sloane, Candice Bergen, A. Russell Andrews (PG-13)
lights turn green. Yet the pairing of Douglas with Albert Brooks turns what might have been mere vanity into recurrent hilarity.

Alhough its climax is an elaborate, expensive wedding, The In-Laws is really a buddy film, bringing the fathers of the conjugating couple into combative cahoots throughout a series of madcap adventures. Brooks plays Jerry Peyser, a nerdish Chicago podiatrist so acrophobic he cannot even take an elevator. Douglas' Steve Tobias soon has him racing under the radar into France in Barbra Streisand's private jet. Steve, whose son is marrying Jerry's daughter, is a daredevil and a showoff whose ex-wife Judy (Bergen) observes: "He doesn't have a soul, but he has to compensate by making extravagant gestures."

Though he claims to be a Xerox salesman, Steve is really a rogue agent for the CIA. Though they would be content with six people on a beach, he insists on arranging a gala reception for the bride and groom. Yet when Steve promises that: "This wedding's gonna be as normal as butter on mashed potatoes," he might have specified yak butter. Amid all the panicked preparations for the wedding party, Steve has to evade the clutches of the FBI, the French drug lord, his own ambitious assistant, and his enraged ex. The result is magnum farce, nicely paced. — STEVEN G. KELLMAN


Except for brief sequences at the beginning and end, all of Manic, Jordan Melamed's debut feature, is set within the confines of the Northwood Mental Institution. We enter its juvenile ward along with 17-year-old Lyle Jensen (Gordon-Levitt), after he beats another boy over the head with a baseball bat. Puberty is often ritualized insanity, and to experience it again with Lyle is to be reminded of how Northwood is merely adolescence magnified.

Lyle and the other troubled teens in Manic display various symptoms of low self-esteem, unmanageable anger, and drug dependency. They are a menace to the staff, one another, and themselves. Lyle is attracted to Tracy (Deschanel), whose mother has convinced her she

Dir: Jordan Melamed; writ. Michael Bacall, Blayne Weaver; feat. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Zooey Deschanel, Cody Lightning, Elden Henson, Sara Rivas, Don Cheadle (R)
is worthless, and erupts with rage toward Michael (Henon), a bully who affects the manner of a ghetto black. Almost all suffer from parental abuse; the stepfather of 13-year-old Kenny (Lightning) even attacks him during a visit to Northwood. Presiding over it all is David Monroe (Cheadle), a staff psychiatrist who, during group sessions spread throughout the film, attempts to get his young charges to recognize and take control of their negative impulses. David is himself a recovering addict under no illusions about the physician's modest power. To convince Lyle of the futility of violence, David throws a temper tantrum that is both a perfect counterfeit and the real thing.

Shot with hand-held cameras and natural lighting, Manic is simulated cinema verite. Through tight closeups, Melamed makes us see how hard and rare it is for chicks with clipped wings to fly over the cuckoo's nest. — STEVEN G. KELLMAN
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