Josie & The Pussycats Movie Review

If you were to take the 1998 Spice Girls movie called "Spice World," then remove all the self-deprecation, all the homages to "Hard Day's Night," and all the surprising wit that made it such a great guilty pleasure, what you'd be left with would closely resemble the new "Josie and the Pussycats" movie -- although the results would still be less formulaic.

A live-action revival of the girlie rock band from the Archie comics and Saturday Morning cartoons, "Josie" is a hypocritical satire of MTV conformity that carefully tippy-toes around its mockery of the fickle pop music market so as not to rock the boat with its target audience -- those very same conformist teenagers at whom it pokes fun.

As the movie opens, the private plane carrying a boy band called Dejour (ha ha, very funny) has just been crashed on the command of their evil manager Wyatt Frame (Alan Cumming), who had to get rid of the boys after they discovered the record company's subliminal messages planted in their songs.

It seems the recording industry and the US government are in cahoots to brainwash America's youth into fad-based spending habits that keep the economy afloat -- or some stupid thing like that. But a paper-thin plot I can live with -- this is a comic book adaptation, after all. It's just a pity that paper-thin plot disparaging bandwagon mentality had to be written and directed by Deborah Kaplan and Harry Elfont, two filmmakers who have yet to demonstrate any inkling of original thought in their careers.

The pair's last picture was "Can't Hardly Wait," arguably the most insincere and cliché-riddled teen movie of the last 20 years. Now they apply their uncreative methods to spin a hackneyed yarn about a struggling suburban band of alt-pop hotties who are "discovered" by Wyatt Frame (soon after parachuting out of Dejour's doomed jet) and put on the very, very fast track to be the latest musical flash in the pan.

The one-dimensional stock character bandmates that make up Josie and the Pussycats are played by Rachel Leigh Cook (Josie, no personality) Tara Reid (Melody, the ditzy airhead distracted by anything shiny) and Rosario Dawson (Val, the loyal and dubious one). They cut a quickie record, go from No. 86 to No. 1, struggle with instant fame and its effects on their friendship, discover (then, of course, thwart) the brainwashing scheme, then have their debut concert in a stadium full of screaming, ironically conformist fans.

All of this takes place in the course of one week, which is a tongue-in-cheek commentary on the nature of the music biz and one of a handful of genuinely funny observations "Josie" has to offer.

But more often the movie's messages are two-faced tripe that should never have been attempted. Kaplan and Elfont clearly think they are tisk-tisking commercialism and being humorous by going into extreme overkill with the product placement. Whole rooms are decorated in Target logos and designed to display brand names and retail goods. But their scoffing has no teeth since it's readily apparent that the product placement in "Josie" is genuinely meant to sell the brand names slapped all over every scene in the picture. In fact, except for about three minutes of plot and a few music video sequences, "Josie and the Pussycats" is almost nothing but product placement and pimping of tie-in merchandise.

On that note -- so to speak -- the movie does boast some pretty catchy tunes from the band (mostly dubbed by other singers). The soundtrack is, of course, available at a store near you. But while the music is fun and the girls look great, the movie is all but worthless, plagued by the most rudimentary filmmaking, the lamest running gags and the most trite, simplistic themes imaginable.

Every once in a while a subversive or facetiously self-aware moment pops up amidst the dreck. The boy band's hit single is called "Back Door Lover" (you can do the math on what that might mean). When the catty character of Alexandra Cabot (Missi Pyle) is asked why she's on tour with the band she says, "Because I was in the comic book!" And the film's best gag is that MTV's Carson Daly (and Reid's real-life financé) is actually part of the whole brainwashing conspiracy. He has a cameo in which he tries to kill the Pussycats.

"Josie and the Pussycats" could have been a delicious satire of MTV-milled consumerism if such elements had been more than just momentary flashes of sardonic inspiration in an otherwise stale movie, designed to do exactly what it decries -- sell tickets and tie-in products to teenagers.

But since the characters are largely bland idiots (the exception being Cumming, although he was even better in the vastly superior and far more wicked "Spice World") and the outtakes that run with the closing credits offer 10 times the entertainment value of the feature itself, the few redeemable elements of this movie just aren't enough to save it from its uninspired, apparently incompetent architects.

Comments

Josie & The Pussycats Rating

" Grim "

Rating: PG-13, Opened: Wednesday, April 11, 2001

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