If "Josie and the Pussycats" (IMDb listing) is the very best Hollywood can do adapting one of the "Archie" comic spin-offs, then kneel down and pray with me for the inevitable "Archie" feature to never happen.
For Josie (Rachael Leigh Cook), Val (Rosario Dawson), and Mel (Tara Reid), trying to break into the music business in the small town of Riverdale is a tough job. When a representative (Alan Cumming) of Mega Records comes into town to scout for bands, he comes across The Pussycats and chooses the aspiring group to become the next best thing. Eager for success, Josie and the gang pack up and move to the big city where they are made into superstars in just under a week. Feeling a hollow sense of achievement, Josie is horrified to learn that her music was only chosen as a conduit for Mega Records to continue its brainwashing of teens through subliminal messages in the Pussycats's music.
Showing about as much band chemistry as Oasis after 7 pints of Guinness, Rachael Leigh Cook, Rosario Dawson, and Tara Reid go to great lengths to show just how wrong for the parts of the Pussycats they are. Cooka gifted dramatic actressis lost without a life preserver as she tries to perform the comedic material as written. Her natural, low key delivery works against the Josie character's outgoing attitude. Her performance is as bad as it is ill-fitting. Another, livelier actress would've gone further and made a little more sense fronting this vivacious rock band. Dawson and Reid have the lesser roles, with Reid trying breathlessly to play dumb. Her brittle voice and So-Cal tan make for a nice absent-minded Pussycat, but the jokes writer/directors Harry Elfont and Deborah Kaplan ("Can't Hardly Wait") give her are as brutal to watch as her fake drumming.
The main jab of "Josie and the Pussycats" is the product placement scattered around every shot in the film. It's meant to caricature the modern day assault of name brands that infest our daily lives. More importantly, Kaplan and Elfont direct their target at teen commercialism, and the Pied Piper effect of the latest crazes. This is a risky subject for the filmmakers to tackle, considering how aggressively "Josie" has been marketed to teenagers. Elfont and Kaplan really don't have a clue how to pull off such a gigantic amount of irony, leaving "Josie" both hypocritical and soul-flattening. To watch corporate logos for Target and McDonalds linger in the background of every scene certainly makes the filmmaker's point obvious. Creating a "Blade Runner" type city for the Pussycats also brings home the satiric ideas. However, since the products being placed are never criticized nor mocked, one can only assume the production is getting quite a bit of money for the placements. It's a disgusting proposition that renders "Josie" as the very same corporate whore the film makes fun of.
If being clueless sums up the moral of "Josie," then clueless is exactly what writer/directors Deborah Kaplan and Harry Elfont are. Laboriously stringing together dated jabs at the music industry while endlessly pimping their movie to corporate sponsorship, the filmmakers are simply lost amongst all the noise they've subjected their movie to. The screenplay is top-heavy with parody that has been done to death (Boy bands? Everybody has beaten them to the punch on that one), and almost nothing in the finished film is worth even a fake laugh. By turning a wholesome, simple idea of a struggling rock band into a deceptive lesson about making your own choices in life, Elfont and Kaplan have crafted a movie without individuality or a spine. All the high energy they place into their own visuals (brought to life with a rather limited color scheme by cinematographer Matthew Libatique) can't save the film from becoming desperately humorless and ethically corrupt.
The only thing the production seems to have gotten right is the hiring of Kay Hanley as the singing double for Rachael Leigh Cook. Formerly the lead singer of the rock band Letters To Cleo, Hanley is the ideal choice to belt out the mediocre tunes that have been arranged by a committee for the soundtrack of "Josie and the Pussycats."
"Josie and the Pussycats" is murder to sit through for every minute of its running time. An endurance test for the intelligent, and a slap across the face for the young. It should be avoided by everybody.
Filmfodder Grade: D-