Rock on, Josie. You know we all want to see the good guys win. Thirty-two years after her dangerous curves and crazy sound made her the biggest star to ever emerge from the suburbs of Riverdale, the original red rocker, one Ms. Josie McCoy, finally makes her big-screen debut. And while it s really hard to be too enthusiastic about what must be the most disingenuous creation in all of creation, it s hard not to like Josie and the Pussycats
, Universal Pictures latest bit of appropriated pop culture. If I were bucking to get my name on the movie poster I d say it s slyly self-aware, unassuming in its garishness, and, in its own way, very nearly perfect. What I mean by that, of course, is that for a 60s comic strip turned 70s Saturday morning cartoon come to extra perky life on the big screen in 2001 it could be a whole lot worse.
The Pussycats were invented by that wholesome bunch from Archie Comics who gave us Betty and Veronica, Archie, Moose, Jughead, and any number of other nonthreatening teenage stereotypes. As you might imagine, as rockers go Josie and the Pussycats were never terribly rebellious. Over time they steadily evolved into groovy, Scooby Doo-style sleuths, playing their hearts out then knocking the stuffing out of bad guys all the while wearing their cute kitty-cat ears and their leopard-spotted bikini tops. For girls, the Pussycats became positive role models with Barbie-like figures, naturally but for prepubescent boys, the G-rated comic might as well have been porn. A single sight gag in the film referencing the non-feline connotations of the word pussy drives that particular point home with a bullet. This is, however, the raciest moment in a not too racy film that received a PG-13 rating for mild sensuality. And while these new celluloid Pussycats do wear some mighty revealing outfits, they seem like modest Amish frocks compared to the skimpy duds they wore in the funny pages.
Although the look has been updated, the Josie and the Pussycats
film is an Archie Comic come to life in every way. You sense the moral coming from the second the first guitar chord sounds. In this case it s an object lesson about marketing and mass media aimed at the eternally status-obsessed teenager. The poor Pussycats, who have been playing on the streets for tips, are chased away by the police when they quite literally bump into evil talent agent Wyatt Frame (played with slimy two-dimensional gusto by Alan Cumming), who s desperate to locate the next big thing. Within a week of their encounter the Pussycats are the next big thing, with the number-one record in the country and legions upon legions of fans. It all seems too good to be true, and it is. You see, the record company is in cahoots with a secret government agency to keep the nation s economy strong by hiding subliminal messages in the Pussycat s music that turns teenagers into mindless consumption machines. Corporate logos for Coke, McDonald s, and Target cover nearly every on-screen surface, and scenes depicting poor, hypnotized mall rats out shopping for more, more, and more have all the tacky texture of a John Waters film. It goes without saying that the Pussycats eventually discover their bosses plans for world domination and make plans to stop them.
Rachael Leigh Cook makes an ideal Josie. She s all sweetness and spunk with no edge to her at all. Bedazzling in her kitty ears and tail, she s every inch a bubblegum fantasy with her sexy sneer and low-slung guitar. Rosario Dawson and Tara Reid are likewise well-cast as the sensitive and brainy Val and the dippy Mel. But make no mistake, this is Parker Posey s show. As Fiona the wicked music producer, Posey lisps comic venom at every turn while slinking about in what appears to be a Valium-induced haze. And she s not really evil at heart, it s just it s just sniff
she always wanted to be popular in school, but she never was.
Though there is no way to review any major Hollywood production that warns of the evils of product placement with a straight face, there isn t anything wrong with a film that encourages kids to worry less about consuming products their favorite stars use and to focus more on doing their own thing. Still, you have to realize that the whole thing is a commercial for a soundtrack, action figures, and Josie-style headbands, not to mention Target, Coke, and McDonald s.