"Josie and the Pussycats," writing-directing team Deborah Kaplan and Harry Elfont's (1998's "Can't Hardly Wait") big-screen ode to the '60s Archie comic and the short-lived '70s animated television show, is silly, fun, paper-thin, and cleverly satirical. It's not going to win any major awards (unless its catchy main tune, "3 Small Words," gets a much-deserved Oscar nomination come next year), and it doesn't quite hold up after close scrutiny, but it's entertaining while it lasts, which is probably what the movie's major goal was in the first place.
MegaRecords managing executive Wyatt Frame (Alan Cumming) and his diabolical boss and CEO of the company, Fiona (Parker Posey), have one goal, and one goal only: to hire a band and wickedly hide subliminal messages and product placements within their songs, brainwashing the youth of America. When DuJour (translation: "[soup] of the day"), MegaRecords' all-boy band of the moment, threatens to cause the company problems, they are quickly dispatched of. Fiona gives Wyatt just one day to find their "next big thing," which, by chance, comes in the form of three bubbly young women and aspiring musicians living in the peaceful town of Riverdale, who wish for nothing but to hit it big. Before long, Wyatt has signed The Pussycats (now known as "Josie and the Pussycats") to a scorching record deal, and in a week, have shot to the #1 spot on the Billboard charts, with millions of obsessive fans around the world clamoring to see them perform in person. Little do starry-eyed Josie (Rachael Leigh Cook), densely sweet Melody (Tara Reid), and serious-minded Valerie (Rosario Dawson) know, their music is being used to send out mixed messages to those listening.
Zippy and cute, "Josie and the Pussycats" does nothing but achieve at making a pitch-perfect version of the Archie comic from which it is based on. Everything from the bright color scheme to the fantastically off-beat premise, the film just oozes "comic." Luckily, there is a bit more going on underneath than just a direct interpretation of the source material. The cast has a blast with their respective roles, and the music by Josie and the Pussycats (lead vocals by Kay Hanley of Letters to Cleo, with backup by the actresses) is unpredictably--almost shockingly--good, so much so that they could truly-to-goodness pass for a talented real-life, all-girl, alt-rock group.
As Josie herself, Rachael Leigh Cook (2001's "Antitrust") shows charismatic promise with a front-and-center role that hasn't been equaled since her 1999 hit, "She's All That." Tara Reid (2001's "Just Visiting") is easily the standout, with her Melody an absolutely endearing character who may be looked upon as a "ditzy blonde," but happily trudges through life always looking on the bright side. Reid springs Melody to life, as her character could actually act as a very positive role model for pre-teens and teenagers everywhere. Rosario Dawson (2000's "Down to You") is the weakest link of the three, but only because her character of Val isn't as memorable as the other two are. Dawson remains likable, nonetheless, and a perfectly respectable way to round out the trio of Pussies.
Alan Cumming, more or less replaying his character from the current "Spy Kids," and Parker Posey (2000's "Scream 3"), ham it up as the scheming villains who are hiding an added secret to themselves. Cumming is good in anything he's in, and Posey gets many laughs from her overtly evil, occasionally lisping, food-obsessed diva. In other supporting roles, Gabriel Mann (2000's "Cherry Falls"), as Josie's best friend and potential boyfriend, Alan M, is appropriately bland, as is Paulo Costanzo (2000's "Road Trip"), as the girls' novice agent. Meanwhile, Missi Pyle (1999's "Trick") is a comic delight as Costanzo's dedicated sister.
Although it is there to make a point, and does directly correlate with the plot, the over-the-top product placements present in "Josie and the Pussycats" do grow monotonous after a while. Not only do they sometimes distract, and detract, from the subject matter of the given scene, but they also feel artificial and antithetical. Sure, the movie deals with product placements being used as subliminal messages, but all of the companies (including McDonalds, Target, Tide, Colgate, MTV, Entertainment Tonight, Evian, Krispy Kreme, among literally hundreds of others) were sure to compensate the producers real well with the added promotion. In this case, less might have been more.
In an age of cynicism, "Josie and the Pussycats" is innocent, light-hearted, and charming. Perfect for children, as well as adults, the movie might not be free of flaws (actually, it is far from it, with an opening half-hour that has trouble finding its footing), but it is free of terribly risque or raunchy humor, which works in the film's favor. And Tara Reid's Melody Valentine most definitely gives us an idea of the zestful mindframe of the Pussycats with one of the movie's best lines: "If I could go back in time," she cheerily proclaims, "I would love to meet Snoopy."
©2001 by Dustin Putman