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Josie and the Pussycats (PG-13)
Universal Pictures and MGM Pictures

Afraid for my sanity this past weekend, I avoided yet another round of movies best suited for developmentally delayed adult males, and opted to go see Josie and the Pussycats instead. I figured a chick flick might be a little better than an adolescent boy gross-out.

I was right. It was a little better.

For those of you who are not Archie comic book fans, Josie and the Pussycats was a spin-off girl comic back in the distant '70s that followed the adventures of a musical threesome, the redhead Josie (here played by Rachel Leigh Cook), African American Valerie (Rosario Dawson) and ditzy blonde Melody (Tara Reid). In this remake, Josie and the Pussycats is a band that can get gigs only at the local bowling alley in Riverdale, USA. However, when the three-boy band Dujour, the latest rock 'n' roll rage, disappears in a plane wreck, their fortunes suddenly change. Dujour's manager, the nefarious Wyatt (Alan Cumming) comes upon the girls and immediately signs them to a fabulous contract with Mega Records, headed by Fiona (Parker Posey).

What Josie et al. don't realize is that their music is a cover for a far-reaching plot to get teenagers to buy one faddish thing after another; buried beneath their music tracks are subliminal advertising messages. This grand conspiracy is supported by the U.S. government as a means to bolster the economy. But, beware; every time an artist from Elvis to Curt Cobain has gotten wind of this plot, their careers have been ended through drugs, death or mayhem.

Ultimately, Josie and the Pussycats is more interesting than it might have been, while still falling far short of the mark. The opening sequence, for example, where the hot band Dujour gives an "impromptu" performance at an airport, with bubblegum-pink clad teenagers crying and salivating over them, is a funny visual statement that recalls the crazy days of The Beatles and British mania. So too, the deeply obvious product placements -- a box of fabric softener on the touring airplane, an ad for spring water in the midst of an aquarium -- and the self-referential commentary by certain characters are occasionally clever and amusing. There's also a good soundtrack.

Satire, however, requires a really deft hand, and Josie is more like a bludgeon. And it isn't really all that funny. For all its pretense to be criticizing teenage consumer culture, I'd bet you a brand-new pair of Reeboks or an Abercrombie and Fitch shirt that the companies represented in the film were absolutely delighted with their repeated mention and on-screen time. (Like in What Women Want where Nike's advertising agency apparently worked closely with the producers, I'll bet Target's marketing folks were all over the set here.)

In the end, like a lot of satire gone awry, the movie ended up reinforcing that which it intended to skewer. Which, if you're a conspiracy theorist like me, may be the nefarious point after all.

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