Reviewby Carl Kimlinger,
Case Closed Movie 5: Countdown to Heaven
Conan Edogawa, mini-sized detective extraordinaire, should know better than to muck about in tall building considering how many he's seen blown up or ravaged by vicious murderers. But muck about he does, and naturally finds himself smack in the middle of a serial murder case involving the West Tama Twin Towers' (no relation) VIPs. As accustomed as he is to stumbling across gruesome kills in the dead of night, you'd think it would be just another day at the morgue for the pint-sized walking disaster, but no. This time Men in Black (of the criminal, not the government variety) Gin and Vodka have been spotted in the vicinity. Is the organization responsible for Conan and Haibara's diminutization somehow involved in the Tower Murders?
Two things you can usually rely on in a Case Closed movie: a mystery (duh) and lots of action. This particular film has both, and plenty of them, but also includes something that was previously exclusive to the TV series: the Men in Black. Murder mysteries, explosions, and a hint of overarching plot: what more could a guy ask for? Well, a consistent tone would be nice. For starters.
As laser-focused as its television incarnation is on murder mysteries of all stripes, it's really no wonder that the Case Closed franchise expands its cinematic horizons a bit whenever it hits the theaters. After busting baddies in the drawing rooms (and bars, restaurants, offices, and toilets) of Japan for god knows how many episodes, who can blame the series' animators for wanting to bust out the pyrotechnics and death-defying stunts when given the opportunity? It would just be nice if they'd do it with a little more finesse. As it is, Countdown to Heaven plays like the mutant love child of Encyclopedia Brown and John McClane. (Do not think too hard about the logistics of that coupling.) Its shifts from familiar character shtick to sleuthing to Towering Inferno-meets-Die Hard derring-do are jarring and its parallel story-lines obviously serve different masters (mystery and big-budget thrills), occasionally bumping off one another but never meshing to form a satisfying whole.
Of course, no one said that lumpy little Encyclopedia McClane couldn't be a fun kid. In particular, the film serves the second of its two masters exceedingly well. Kenji Kodama and his crew have a lot of fun with their elevated theatrical budget, transforming the film's final act into a slick high-rise action vehicle complete with raging infernos, jumping cars, and some business with bombs that would have been in bad taste had it been filmed five months later (April 2001, add five months...). Using Gin, one of the series' few truly frightening villains, also adds an edge of danger and lethal style to the movie (you gotta admire a guy whose idea of conflict resolution is torching a skyscraper full of kids), and the return, however inconclusive, to the series' overarching plot is welcome.
It's almost enough to make you forget, at least while the flames are a-licking, how unevenly it is structured and how perfunctory its all-important mystery is. Complicated, yes, and filled with the requisite red-herring and cryptic hinting, but ultimately disposable and a little silly clue-wise, and easy to figure if you simply look at the suspects and ask yourself "who doesn't belong?"
The name-altering business in Funimation's dub defies logic more obviously than ever (the characters play kanji games and camp on Mt. Fuji; who are the writers trying to fool with their Americanized nomenclature?), but so long as you take it in stride, it's decent work: competently (if hammily) acted and with a sense of humor all its own. Dr. Agasa's, er European? accent remains a mistake, and the ham some of the one-off characters bring to the table could choke a feasting Viking, but otherwise it's good fun. The dialogue is left intact more often than the name-swapping might lead you to expect (though is altered enough to give away the occasional plot point), and the music is left untouched, though the bland movie-specific compositions maybe could've used some touching. The ones borrowed from the show, as odd and catchy as they are, don't.
There are juicy morsels to be had for fans of almost every character (even the irritating Junior Detectives), and yes, there is a murder mystery, but really this is a movie for those who want to see Gin and Vodka's spectacular villainy given the big-screen treatment: for those who couldn't care less that the big culprit-reveal is sort of tossed off between action scenes, and for whom the logic of trading whodunit suspense for elaborately roiling serpents of smoke, flowing rivers of flame, and borrowed Die Hard stunts makes perfect sense.
Overall (dub) : C+
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : C
Animation : B
Art : C
Music : C+
+ Furious, action-packed finale; return of the Men in Black.
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