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The Dish

MRQE Top Critic

Operation Condor

Jackie Chan meets Indiana Jones —Andrea Birgers (review...)

Chan borrows from Raiders

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Josie and the Pussycats is a surprisingly entertaining comic book romp. It’s a mostly clever comedy that pokes fun at the whole music business with its crass commercialism and corporate sponsorship of musical talent.

The movie starts with a terrific spoof of today’s hottest boy bands. The band of the day is the band DuJour – four spoiled-rotten kids who think they’re hip while singing silly trash like “Backdoor Lover” and the self-loving “DuJour Around the World.” They say Blazing Saddles killed the Western genre. In a perfect world, this spoof of boy bands would be the death knell for the ilk of Backstreet Boys and *N Sync.

The World’s Biggest Band

The Pussycats live it upJosie and the Pussycats tells the tale of how Josie McCoy (Rachael Leigh Cook, She’s All That) and her best friends Valerie Brown (Rosario Dawson, Down to You) and Melody Valentine (Tara Reid, American Pie) go from playing gigs at the Riverdale Pin Palace to a big-time record deal. In the comic book world in which they live, they virtually crash into the opportunity and instantly find themselves replacing the recently “disappeared” members of DuJour in the flavor of the week music derby.

The setup is sly and quite witty, a tone which the movie for the most part manages to sustain. Along the way, though, it does fall victim to its own anti-commercialism stand. Product placements, even when used in a satirical fashion, are still product placements. Whether they are Target stores, Motorola’s cell phones, Krispy Kreme’s donuts, or McDonald’s arches, there are famous-brand products everywhere in this movie. The tone is supposed to be making fun of the placements, but it would have been funnier and – smarter – to use fake products in place of the already familiar brands to give the movie a more complete sense of satire and create its own world.

That aside, there is still a lot to be enjoyed. Alan Cumming (Titus) plays Wyatt Frame, DuJour’s former manager in search of a new band. He’s a hipster with no idea about what’s going on in music today and he’s in cahoots with a power-hungry culture hound named Fiona (Parker Posey, The House of Yes). She runs a command center that creates subliminal messages, sent out through music, that clue kids (the world’s “mindless drones”) in to the latest fashion trends and fads.

As it turns out, these two wannabes have a lot in common and wind up providing the moral of the story: Be happy with who you are. Talk about material ripped right out of the comics… or Saturday morning television.

Thankfully, most of the comedy plays well, including a bit in which Carson Daly (the host of MTV’s Total Request Live) makes an appearance, playing himself. In servitude to Fiona, he’s actually a hit man out to get Melody (played by Reid, his real-life fiancé). In comics logic, it plays well.

You’re a Star

Cook is great as Josie and Reid manages to get the laughs as the extremely ditzy blonde. In fact, the whole cast is game in this high-spirited camp trip.

The directing team of Harry Elfont and Deborah Kaplan previously directed Can’t Hardly Wait and also helped write those “modern day classics” The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas and A Very Brady Sequel. That said, this clearly doesn’t have the sophistication of Spinal Tap.

However, like This is Spinal Tap, the movie does provide music that can stand on its own. Kay Hanley, formerly of the rock band Letters to Cleo, supplies Josie’s singing vocals on tunes benefiting from the varied talents of such artists as Babyface, Jane Wiedlin, and Matthew Sweet.

As enjoyable as Josie is, it is also a bit of a curiosity. The comedy is light and carefree, capturing the essence of its Archie Comics source material. But as a big screen feature, its ambitions, although spiffed up with high-tech special effects, are fairly mild. It is the kind of movie that will probably find greater popularity on home video than at the box office.

Regarding that PG-13 rating, it seems to be an unfortunate marketing ploy on behalf of Universal. This could have easily been challenged as there is very little in the way of “language” or “sensuality” to warrant the rating. Of course, with a name like Josie and the Pussycats, they couldn’t help but throw in a double entendre or two in an unnecessary attempt to perk the interest of older adolescent boys.