COWBOY BEBOP: THE MOVIE

(R, 115 minutes) Here's the movie version of a well-established cult series. "Cowboy Bebop" began life as an anime (Japanese animation) television series in 1998. Fans will be glad to see the usual cast of animated characters figuring in the story: Spike Spiegel, Jet Black, Faye Valentine, Edward Wong and the Data Dog, Ein. These are the Bebop bounty hunters, and this time they are chasing down a mysterious adversary who has blown up a tanker in the middle of a major Martian city, causing bio-hazardous fumes to kill people by the hundreds. After a while, as in all too many Japanese animation films, the plot becomes convoluted and mentally wearying. But the atmospherics are wonderfully dark and film-noirish, if overly violent. Great fighting sequences, too. The movie also features the TV show's original director (Shinichiro Watanabe) and writer (Keiko Nobumoto). Contains cartoon violence. Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle.

-- Desson Howe ASSASSINATION TANGO

(R, 114 minutes) The title of "Assassination Tango" pretty much says it all: When a ballroom-dance-loving New York hit man (Robert Duvall, who also wrote and directed) takes on a job in Buenos Aires, he bides his time waiting for the target to show up by taking tango lessons. That's it, folks. Assassination + Tango = "Assassination Tango." Get it? Neither did I. Despite the fact that John (Duvall) has a serious girlfriend (stolid, reliable Kathy Baker) back in the states, the film seems to be something of a love story, in that John kind of, sort of starts up a relationship with his dance teacher (Duvall's real-life squeeze, lissome Luciana Pedraza). Sadly, though, we're never given much to help us understand why this Latin hottie would be attracted to a paunchy, pony-tailed gringo more than twice her age. The film is also something of a noirish thriller, although Duvall's script drops the ball big time in this regard. Apparently, someone forgot to remind him to write an ending. Something that might explain all the mysterious chicanery, double-crossing and shadowy figures that he has thrown into the plot. I guess that means it's neither a love story nor a thriller, but an art-house film. After all, we're supposed to come out of those movies scratching our heads and saying, "Huh?" Contains obscenity, a dimly lit sexual encounter and a shooting. At the Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle 5 and Landmark Theatres Bethesda Row.

-- Michael O'Sullivan WHAT A GIRL WANTS

(PG, 104 minutes) This movie's aimed exclusively for girls and women who make quiet moaning sounds at the thought of being born into an aristocratic and rich family -- preferably an English one. Young Daphne (Amanda Bynes) has always known that her father is Henry Dashwood (Colin Firth), an English Lord who, in his salad (and motorbike riding) days, fell in love with and married Daphne's American mom, Libby (Kelly Preston). But on the British side of things, the scheming Alastair Payne (Jonathan Pryce) fixed things so Henry and Libby (pregnant with Daphne, unbeknownst to Henry) split up. When Daphne becomes a teenager, she decides to look up her father. She finds Lord Dashwood, who isn't even aware he has a daughter, engaged to Alastair's haughty, snobbish (and divorced) daughter, who has her own snobbish daughter in tow. The movie's a tiresome one-gag movie: Daphne moves in with her father, who's now an aspiring candidate for prime minister, and stands out like a Yank as Henry and family attend royal fashion and boat shows. It's uninspired and insipid all the way. And to add sacrilege to mediocrity, the Clash's "London Calling" plays on the soundtrack when Daphne arrives in town. Contains princess fantasy propaganda. Area theaters.

-- Desson Howe