Josie and the Pussy-cats
Reviewed by Jeff DeLuzio
Rating: 7 Beans
hink of the five or ten most memorable commercial films. Most feature at least one strikingly original element. "Casablanca"'s hero, heroine, and ending were atypical for early 40s Hollywood. The original "Star Wars" was derivative of everything, but the particular mix was unprecedented in 1977. "The Godfather"? Show me a mobster movie that played like THAT before the Corleones. How about "Taxi Driver"? ""Deliverance"? "sex, lies, and videotape" "Run, Lola, Run"?
Now, consider how many commercial and critical disasters have been weak rehashes of existing shows, movies, and cartoons. "McHale's Navy"? "Mr. Magoo"? "Car 54, Where are You?"? "Rocky and Bullwinkle"? Even the "hits" in this category are weak. "The Beverly Hillbillies" was only a marginal success. "The Brady Bunch" movies were amusing, but as parodies of the original, and I doubt either "Brady" flick will make a very lasting impression.
Why, then, does Hollywood persist in recycling old TV fare in the most unimaginative, cookie- cutter manner possible? It rarely makes for good cinema and it doesn't translate into financial success. Who keeps thinking this is a good idea? And why would anyone descend to the bottom of the media barrel to dredge up a largely forgotten cartoon about an all-girl rock band who dress like kitty-cats?
Josie began in 1963, when the folks at "Archie" realized that female Archie impersonators put out by rival comic companies were biting into their sales. They launched Josie-- sans guitar and pussy-costume-- as their own in-house rip-off. The comic even featured a teenage witch, Alexandra, though, unlike "Sabrina," she was the token bitch. Later, Hanna-Barbara realized they had a hot property with "Scooby-Doo," and revamped Josie for TV, giving her a guitar to play, songs to sing, and mysteries to solve. Alexandra stayed on as a foil, but they eliminated her supernatural powers. The show lasted a couple of years on Saturday mornings, crossed over once with Scooby, and died. "Josie," then, was always a cash-in, rip-off venture. This movie at least keeps that tradition alive.
For this is a "product" film, straight from the assembly line. Yet, in a move of utter cynicism, the film-makers have given "Josie" an anti-"art-as-product" message. The Pussycats, you see, only get their recording contract because the evil Fiona (Parker Posey) and her idiot assistant (Alan Cummings-- occassionally funny here) have a plot to send subliminal messages through music, brainwashing impressionable youth into jumping upon pointless bandwagons and buying useless status- products. But that's exactly what "Josie" is: an ad campaign in search of a film, crammed with more product placement than perhaps any movie in history. If this is supposed to be intentional irony, it falls flat, and it fails to entertain.
It also fails to give the cast anything worth doing. Josie (Rachel Leigh Cook) lip-synchs some passable songs, and then is left to look embarrassed when the film asks us to take her 2-dimensional character's feelings seriously. Val (Rosario Dawson) doesn't fare any better, while Melody (Tara Reid) gets only a few small laughs as a hyperbolic ditz. And what on earth is Parker Posey doing in this film?
Well, actors need money. They get it by taking acting jobs. Her villainess gets so little screen- time I expect her part was filmed over a couple of days. She gets to wear a truly bizarre outfit in one scene; she'll likely be great in the next film that comes her way.
The handling of Alexandra (Missi Pyle) reveals much about the film. She and Josie exchange barbs early on. Since Josie is the title character, that must mean Alexandra's the bitchy foil. End of character development. At one point, someone asks why she's there. She replies that it's because she was in the comic. That second of self-reference is mildly amusing, but the fact is, they never give her character anything to do, and no, acknowledging the fact does not make that okay.
When all of this seems as desperate as it really is, they backpeddle into "hey, it's just a goofy comic- book movie" mode. Then they insert rock-video sequences. None of it works. In short, "Josie and the Pussycats" only provides us with three things we couldn't see in less time if we watched a bad rerun of the 70s cartoon. Oh, and these:
1. The inevitable gag that riffs on the word "pussy."
2. A reference to tampons.
3. The expectation that what we're watching should be any better than a bad rerun of a 70s cartoon.
My thanks to Donald D. Markstein's Toonopedia (www.toonopedia.com) for filling in the missing gaps in Pussycat history.
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