Directed by: Deborah Kaplan, Harry Elfont
Starring: Rachael Leigh Cook, Tara Reid, Rosario Dawson, Alan Cumming, Parker Posey
Yes, it's silly and even rather goofy. And Josie and the Pussycats has a central problem in that the girls -- even with post-recording sweetening and Kay Hanley (Letters to Cleo) doing Josie's actual vocalizing -- can't sing very well, a significant drawback for a musical. The film's not anywhere near as funny as it pretends to be. It tries to play both ends against the middle by being the very thing it condemns, or condemning the very thing it is (take your pick). Those are the drawbacks. On the plus side, however, the film is cheerful, cheerfully inventive, energetically played, blessed with two wonderful villains and has a nice sense of humor about itself. No matter how ultimately shallow Josie and the Pussycats is -- and just how deep can a movie based on characters from Archie comics and the subsequent Hanna-Barbera cartoon version rip-off of the already lame Scooby Doo be? -- it's pretty hard to dislike. (How can you hate a movie where a largely extraneous character's presence is questioned, only to have her matter-of-factly respond, "I was in the comic book"?) Overall, the movie is shot like a Richard Lester Beatles film with a touch of the satire found in that ultimate dissection of girl rock groups, British TV's Rock Follies. That it lacks the freshness and spontaneity of the real McLester doesn't keep it from being fun. That it softens and sells out the satire of Rock Follies is only to be expected, since this is every inch a mainstream Hollywood product. That it manages to be at all satirical or have any point is remarkable enough. Its story line is perfect for such an undertaking: When Wyatt Frame (Alan Cumming, Spy Kids) discovers his chart-topping boy band, the aptly named DuJour, have started to figure out that there are messages being buried in their songs, he blithely has their pilot ditch their plane ("Take the Chevy to the Levee" is the signal for this) while Wyatt and the pilot parachute to safety in the Archie Small Town U.S.A., Riverdale. Pressured by his boss, Fiona (Parker Posey, The House of Yes) into quickly finding a replacement band, Wyatt discovers the Pussycats when he nearly runs over them. (It's actually a great moment as the girls freeze like deer in his headlights, Meatloaf's "Paradise By the Dashboard Lights" comes up on the soundtrack, and Wyatt frames them through the plastic of an empty CD case.) In no time, the girls are propelled to super stardom, until they too get a whiff of rodentia in Wyatt and Fiona's plans -- a situation that places their friendship and lives in danger. It's all for fun, of course, but it's interesting to see that the scheme for the subliminal mind control of today's youth being accomplished by the villainous duo is actually sanctioned by the United States government, giving the silly film a genuine touch of the subversive. Even so, setting the action in what can only be called Product-Placement Hell raises a problem. With every inch of the sets festooned with advertising for Target, McDonald's, etc., isn't the film actually succumbing to the very thing it decries? The only defense is that the product placement is done with such overkill that it satirizes what it's doing even while doing it -- and it does make for fantastic production design. With the exception of Tara Reid (The Big Lebowski) as Melody, the Pussycats themselves are not called on to do much more than look attractive and perform enthusiastically. Reid's incredibly ditsy character is a bit more, though, easily scoring the trio's biggest laughs. The real delights of the film are Alan Cumming and Parker Posey, two of the most deliciously transparent villains to come along in some time. From the moment Cumming demonstrates how he keeps his boy band charges in line ("Eye contact! Hand!" he demands, slapping their wrists as if they're naughty schoolboys), he has the audience right where he wants them and never loses his grasp. His only equal is Posey, who manages to go toe-to-toe with him, but never actually bests him. For this duo alone, Josie and the Pussycats is worth seeing -- but it has other compensations as well, even if it only sometimes completely rings the bell.