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Josie and the Pussycats Movie Review

Movie Review by Anthony Leong © Copyright 2001

Tara Reid, Rachael Leigh Cook, and Rosario Dawson

The cat's out of the bag-"Josie and the Pussycats" rocks! A purr-fect mix of wit and style! The cat's meow! Though it sounds like I'm rambling off some snappy sound bites for the swill merchants (which, of course, I am), this teen-demo-friendly fare is certainly no 'fat cat' when it comes to delivering a good time. As the latest piece of Seventies pop culture to find new life as a motion picture (in the footsteps of "Charlie's Angels"), "Josie and the Pussycats" is a surprisingly enjoyable and irreverent romp through a cynic's view of big music, with more than enough broad appeal to ensure nine lives at the box office.

Josie and the Pussycats,
Long tails and ears for hats.
Guitars, sharps, and flats,
Hot, sweet, super cool,
Don't you know these kitties rule!

Instead of having the girls solve "Scooby-Doo"-style mysteries (as they did in the 16-episode run of the "Josie and the Pussycats" cartoon from 1970) or seeking out new life in the final frontier (as they did in the 1972 run of "Josie and the Pussycats in Outer Space"), "Josie and the Pussycats" reinvents the rock-and-roll trio as a struggling garage band in their native Riverdale (home of Archie and the gang, which originally spun-off Josie).

Seth Green, Alan Cumming, and Breckin Meyer

Josie McCoy (Rachael Leigh Cook of "She's All That") is the lively lead singer-guitarist of the group, Valerie Brown (Rosario Dawson of "Down to You") is the pragmatic bass-player, while Melody Valentine (Tara Reid of "American Pie") is the ditzy blonde drummer. Mismanaged by brother-and-sister management team of Alexander (Paulo Costanzo of "Road Trip") and Alexandra (Missi Pyle of "Galaxy Quest"), the girls are struggling to make ends meet, relegated to playing bowling alleys and city sidewalks.

But this all changes when they run into big-shot music producer Wyatt Frame (Alan Cumming of "Spy Kids"), who is in search of new victims, err, talent. They are whisked away to New York, where they sign a record deal with Mega Records and soon find themselves shooting up the charts with their unique brand of infectious pop. However, not everything is as it seems- it seems that Josie and Pussycats are but pawns in the grand design of the Mega Records CEO, Fiona (former indie poster girl Parker Posey, last seen in "Scream 3"), who controls a vast military-industrial-entertainment complex initiative that uses subliminal messages in pop music to control what teenagers buy and think. Of course, if Josie, Valerie, and Melody get wise to this conspiracy of consumerism, it could mean the end of their music careers, or even their lives.

Dawson, Reid, Gabriel Mann, and Cook

In all honesty, I had really low expectations of "Josie and the Pussycats". I wasn't really a big fan of the comic books or the cartoons, and in the wake of other movies based on blasts from the past, such as "The Mod Squad" or "The Flintstones", I was expecting another ill conceived and poorly executed rehash of stale ideas. Fortunately, those worries were for naught, as the writing/directing team of Deborah Kaplan and Harry Elfont ("Can't Hardly Wait") has created a wonderfully wicked parody of not only the music biz, but also 'teen-friendly' movies in general.

Lyin' in your bed, staring up at the moon,
You got me crazy, gonna love you soon...
I'm your backdoor lover!
Come from behind with the lights down low.
Backdoor lover!
Between you and me, no one has to know.

Dawson, Reid, Cook, and Parker Posey

The scattershot satirical barbs are fast, frequent, and most importantly, funny. The opening scene of the film parodies the 'boy band' craze, with Seth Green ("Austin Powers") and Breckin Meyer ("Road Trip") fronting a Backstreet Boys/NSYNC-type group with the cheekily-titled number one hit "Backdoor Lover" (!). Later on, Mr. Moviefone, Canadian actor Eugene Levy (also of "American Pie"), and MTV's Carson Daly (playing himself) are revealed to be willing co-conspirators in Fiona's diabolical plan. The film also goes down the path of self-parody, sporting a number of terrific moments of self-aware humor, such as a running gag on blatantly incongruous product placements that permeates every single scene, and a brief exchange where Alexander asks his sister while en route to New York, "But what I don't understand is why you're here", and receives the response, "That's because I was in the comic book".

The fun-loving style of the film is also apparent in the soundtrack, which is probably the best collection of nonexistent pop singles since "That Thing You Do". In addition to the aforementioned "Backdoor Lover" (which is worth the price of the CD alone), the soundtrack will probably get plenty of airplay with the many bouncy rock numbers heard throughout the film, such as "Three Small Words", "Pretend to be Nice", and "Come On".

Performance-wise, Cook brings the requisite combination of spunk and charm in her portrayal of Josie, while Dawson capably handles herself as the sassy but sensible Valerie. However, as the child-like Melody, Reid manages to steal many of the scenes from under her costars, making her probably the most memorable player in the film-her ditziness knows no bounds. In terms of the supporting cast, Cumming's portrayal of the self-centered mega-producer calls to mind Richard E. Grant's similar role in "Spice World", while Gabriel Mann ("Outside Providence") is affable as Josie's love interest. The only misfire seems to be Posey, whose over-the-top portrayal of Fiona goes a little too over-the-top.

In the end, there just aren't enough feline-flavored idioms to convey how much fun "Josie and the Pussycats" is. Similar to "Clueless", "Election", and last year's "Bring It On", this is a 'teen movie' that benefits greatly from a clever and witty script, a slick production, and wholly-likable characters. If you are looking for a rockin' good time to shake off the winter blues, you can't go wrong hanging around with "Josie and the Pussycats".

Images courtesy of Universal Pictures. All rights reserved.

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