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JOSIE AND THE PUSSYCATS

by: Michael Dequina

Review by James Berardinelli

Here's another one for the "What were they thinking?" category. As if the world didn't need one more tired, live-action retread of an old TV cartoon... This time, the victim is "Josie and the Pussycats", whose characters began life in the pages of the "Archie" comic book before being given their own short-lived animated TV show three decades ago (it lasted only 16 episodes). It would be interesting to know who in Hollywood thought there was enough demand for a new Josie to justify this insultingly bad project.

Only the existence of Mr. Magoo prevents Josie and the Pussycats from claiming the dubious title of worst cartoon TV-to-live-action film translation of all time (and there are plenty of competitors, with more - such as Scooby Doo - to come). Yes, it's worse than The Flintstones, The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle, and even the unspeakably awful Inspector Gadget. What we have here are three boring actresses playing three boring characters in one boring movie. There's no doubt that the characters' energy and animation got lost in the transition from the small screen to the big one.

The movie is really two stories in one. The first centers around the efforts of three post-high school friends, Josie (Rachael Leigh Cook), Melody (Tara Reid), and Valerie (Rosario Dawson), to get their band, "The Pussycats", off the ground. The other is about the machinations of a megalomaniac record producer, Fiona (Parker Posey), and her assistant, Wyatt (Alan Cumming), to brainwash the children of America into buying all sorts of useless products and starting pointless trends and fads. The two plotlines collide when Wyatt determines that "The Pussycats" are the perfect front for Fiona's brainwashing techniques - their first CD will be filled with subliminal messages. Meanwhile, Josie, Mel, and Val are so excited by success that they barely pause to consider why it's happening to them.

Bad, creatively barren writing (by partners Harry Elfont & Deborah Kaplan, who were selected to co-write and co-direct this feature after the rousing success of their previous collaboration, Can't Hardly Wait) isn't the only problem with Josie and the Pussycats, but it's a good place to start. Despite several generically nondescript musical numbers, the movie has the energy of a halogen lamp during a blackout. One might have mistakenly assumed that Josie and the Pussycats could achieve a Charlie's Angels level of campy fun, but it never comes close. Elfont and Kaplan's attempts at self-referential comedy are contrived and unfunny, and their stabs at social parody lack any kind of edge. The movie is desperate not to offend, which is death to any satire. The digs at bands created by marketing are limited to good natured jabs like calling one such group "Band Du Jour". And then the script does the worst imaginable thing by trying to humanize these cardboard-cutout characters. During those scenes, it wasn't empathy welling up within me - it was my dinner.

All three of the lead actresses - Rachael Leigh Cook (She's All That), Tara Reid (American Pie), and Rosario Dawson (Light It Up) - have shown appeal and ability in previous outings, so it's somewhat surprisingly that none of them evidences any talent here. Cook and Dawson are like soufflés gone flat, while Reid spends the whole time bubbling over in full ditz mode. Parker Posey's over-the-top performance is actually a little creepy (think of a snake with marbles in its mouth), and Alan Cumming isn't allowed to go far enough (he's essentially playing a toned-down version of his Spy Kids bad guy).

Strangely, for a movie that attempts to satirize product placements, Josie and the Pussycats is loaded with name-brands. Maybe, on some level, that's supposed to be a clever commentary, but since there was undoubtedly money exch

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