Josie and the Pussycats Review

Sep 25, 2001 | 6:54am EDT

Who better to save the world from scheming corporate slimeballs than three suburban girls with spunk smarts--sort of--and catchy choruses to spare? Singer and guitar-slinger Josie (Rachael Leigh Cook) sets the agenda. Melody (Tara Reid) sweet but slowwitted bangs the drums. Bassist Val (Rosario Dawson) always watching out for her friends knows when something's rotten in sleepy Riverdale. Their dream to make it to the top of the charts becomes a reality when creepy record manager Wyatt Frame (Alan Cumming) offers the garage band a contract - without hearing a single note. See Frame's in hot water. He's missing his boy band. Seems an airplane carrying the four members of DuJour - of "Backdoor Lover" fame - fell off the radar whereabouts still unknown. Before you can say boxed-set retrospective Frame whisks the re-christened Josie and the Pussycats to the big city to meet MegaRecords CEO Fiona (Parker Posey) - just Fiona - and to record a No. 1 album. One week later Josie and the Pussycats rule. Only the pressures of fame threaten to tear apart these lifelong friends. And just why are Frame and Fiona planting subliminal messages on such Josie and the Pussycats songs as "Pretend to be Nice" and "Small Words"? Could it be that they want to brainwash the youth of America into buying more than just the singles CD and merchandizing? Will the Pussycats save the day? Of course: all things must end in a catfight. Does acting really matter when it comes to such a glossy but exuberant display of teen spirit? Not really but these feline friends certainly try hard. They storm their way through the Monkees-style music-fueled montages looking and acting very much like today's aspiring pop divas. An enigmatic talent used to ill-effect in such recent disasters as Get Carter Antitrust and Blow Dry the charming Cook imbues Josie with wisdom beyond her years even if it takes Josie a while to figure out what's going down. Playing a prototypical blonde bimbo Reid delivers her dopey asides with breathy giddiness and sincerity. "If I could go back in time I would want to meet Snoopy " Reid gushes in one of her more enlightened moments. Of the three Dawson has the least to do. She's tougher than leather but that's about it. The three do find themselves outmatched by Cumming and Posey who make a deliciously dastardly duo. Cumming is becoming an old pro at this having recently menaced Antonio Banderas and family in Spy Kids. There are some fun cameos including Eugene Levy as himself hosting a hysterical promotional film about subliminal messages. Yet there's something creepy about watching MTV personality Carson Daly chase real-life love Tara Reid with a baseball bat. That Josie and the Pussycats takes itself somewhat seriously as a screed against rampant consumerism seems both ironic and bewildering. Writers and directors Deborah Kaplan and Harry Elfont - of Can't Hardly Wait fame for what that's worth - rally against corporate America's constant and often overpowering crusade to persuade teens to buy their products. Yet every scene in the film - every scene! - features a familiar brand of soft drink shoes or clothes. This is not a film: it's a shallow and insulting exercise in product placement. You can't see the message for the ads. Besides Josie and the Pussycats rarely reaches the inspired heights of its opening. Otherwise Kaplan and Elfont rely on yawn-inducing MTV-style theatrics tired pop cultural references and terribly self-conscious in-jokes about the comic book to keep these cats on the prowl.

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