`Josie' adds a dimension

`Josie' gets an added dimension

Movie review

April 11, 2001|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

Energetic, good-hearted and slyly self-referential, "Josie and the Pussycats" makes points about the ceaseless materialism and crass commercialism of modern-day America by chronicling the exploits of a rock band created to sell comic books.

And if that central irony isn't enough to get young audiences into theaters (and it probably isn't), there's this, too: The film rocks.

Josie and her feline band-mates started off as characters in Archie comics and even had their own Saturday morning cartoon show for a time (most latter-day baby boomers remember the theme song well). But instead of continuing in the same vein - having the girls battle evildoers and survive all manner of scrapes - writer-directors Deborah Kaplan and Harry Elfont instead concentrated on the band itself, on its members' efforts to become famous enough to escape the confines of their hometown of Riverdale, and their experiences with a big record-company conglomerate. (Hey, if "The Archies" could do it with "Sugar, Sugar," surely the 'Cats could follow their example.)

We first meet the Pussycats rocking out at a Riverdale bowling alley, where the only reaction to their songs is a request to get off the lanes, since league play is about to start.

Lesser lights would be dispirited by such a reaction, and truth be told, the Pussycats are finding it ever tougher to soldier on - save for their ever-optimistic drummer, Melody (a delightfully frothy Tara Reid), who wouldn't recognize a dark cloud if it rained on her.

fate, as it so often does, unveils a new plan. MegaRecords, whose latest next-big-thing, the boy-toy band Dujour, has just come to a sad end, is looking for a new superstar. And when hot-shot talent scout Wyatt Frame (Alan Cumming) spots the Pussycats, visions of No. 1 songs fly through his head.

So, quick as that, the girls are signed to a major label, playing stadium concerts, starting fashion trends and becoming all the rage.

But there's a sinister undercurrent at work - the group's success is not based on talent alone!

No, the evil MegaRecords CEO Fiona (Parker Posey) has inserted subliminal messages into the band's records that give the company near-total control of the fad-crazed minds of American teens.

Will Josie and her pals uncover this nefarious scheme? Will the teen-agers of America regain their free will? And would the Pussycats' new single, "3 Small Words," become a hit even without the subliminal help?

"Josie" has a lot of fun taking jibes at pop-culture icons and saturating itself with so many product placements (for everything from McDonald's to MTV to Evian) that viewers can't help but realize the absurdity of it all.

As Josie, doe-eyed Rachael Leigh Cook might overdo the doleful, but that makes it even more notable when she gets happy. Reid is a constant delight, and Dawson, though she's given some of the script's sappiest lines, always seems to be having fun.

Sure, the film has flaws. The Pussycats talk a better rock-'n-roll attitude than they display, and Cumming and Posey could have turned down their characters a notch or two.

But a comic-book rock band starring in a film that actually makes a point? Now that's something worth singing about.

`Josie and the Pussycats'

Starring Rachel Leigh Cook, Tara Reid, Rosario Dawson

Written and directed by Deborah Kaplan and Harry Elfoni

Rated PG-13

Released by Universal and MGM

Running time100 minutes

Sun score * * *

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