Rosario Dawson, Rachel Leigh Cook, and Tara Reid Rock Out and Laugh it up!



Enough already! – It is time for these cats to climb the charts.  If every feline has nine lives, then the Archie Comics property of Josie and the Pussycats has exhausted maybe only three of them.  (First as a comic book in the Riverdale sphere, then as two Hanna-Barbera cartoons).  The music-driven iconography of the happy-go-rockin’ three-piece girl group hasn’t exactly been number one with a bullet, but let’s stop pretending there’s nothing there, man!  As the chronically overlooked and tragically buried 2001 comedy bearing the trio’s name demonstrates, there can be far more to Josie and the Pussycats than long tails, and ears for hats!

What’s that?  You say you haven’t really thought of Josie and the Pussycats one way or the other for years?  Or, you say that you never heard of Josie and the Pussycats, so you demand to know what’s this all about, anyway?  What’s that??  You aren’t demanding at all to know what this is all about?  Well, hey… if you’re this far along in this review, hang in there- Josie and the Pussycats are indeed back!!

Well, they’re sort of back.  Some may recall the poorly received live-action movie Josie and the Pussycats, which is currently celebrating its twenty-year anniversary with a crackling new extras-enhanced Blu-ray edition from Mill Creek Entertainment.  The fact that Mill Creek stuck to the film’s own artwork and did not gussy up the packaging with their popular retro VHS slipcover schtick really goes to show just how committed the company is to let this cult favorite land on its own feet.  

As co-written and directed by the winning duo of Deborah Kaplan and Harry Elfont, Josie and the Pussycatsambitiously pounces into the then-trending teen comedy fray.  Brandishing Austin Powers level verve and Wayne’s World-level arbitrary humor, Josie made good on the promise of Kaplan and Elfont’s previous effort, 1998’s Can’t Hardly Wait– a sharp film that was indeed underrated, and among the best of its ilk.  The only thing missing was Mike Myers.  That, and boffo box office.  Somehow, when Josie and the Pussycats dropped theatrically, the world was brainwashed into kicking it into the cultural litter box. 

In taking and cranking the George Harrison teen marketing exposé scene of A Hard Day’s Night to eleven- indeed, making an entire movie out of it- Josie and the Pussycats trades most any semblance of common pathos for a meta playground of its own making.  By going full bore with product placement- not just within the film’s storyline of a vast conspiracy of youth-culture-as-capitalist-brainwashing, but all over the film itself- Kaplan and Elfont claw at some next-level satire.  Two decades out, far more of this hits the target (or in this case, Target.. and Revlon… and McDonald’s… and Sega… and Coca-Cola… the filmmaker’s claim that no money was generated from any of it) than not.  Yes, it’s true that by 2001, mocking boy bands was akin to pawing at fish in a barrel.  But these are catswe’re talking about- they know better than anyone how to paw at such fish.  And boy, do they.  

Brandishing a PG-13 rating, the still-wholesome Archie Comics company reportedly turned against the film, what with its double entendre and yet more double entendre.  Yet, this is the incarnation where front-woman Josie, levelheaded Valerie, and dippy-yet-lovable Melody finally get to wear pants.  (That is, if we discount the 1972-1974 Hanna-Barbera animated series Josie and the Pussycats in Outer Space [itself recent to Blu-ray], where the gals wear space-pants under their space-miniskirts.  And why the heck would we discount that?)  The only remnant of the band’s classic, cute, matching leopard-print leotards (admittedly missed, but so be it) are the fuzzy cat-ears.  Melody’s are the only set of ears that’s actually a hat.

For all its quick wit and unrelenting pop culture mockery, it’s the girls themselves that makes Josie and the Pussycats so darn infectious.  Rachel Leigh Cook shines as Josie, giving a rather risky and intentionally odd reactive performance.  (An uncanny blend of adorable and beady-eyed, her Josie).  Rosario Dawson completely sells Valerie’s frustrated skepticism, and Tara Reid’s loopy turn as Melody might just be the American Pie actress’s finest hour.  The vintage behind-the-scenes promo videos press all the expected claims that they clicked right away as best of friends, but in this case, it’s hard not to believe it.  All along, they’ve got plenty of catchy original tunes to play.  (Or, pretend like they’re playing.  The actresses managed to learn their instruments well enough to be convincing on film, but not to actually perform).

As sweet as the Pussycats are, they need equally unsweetened baddies to challenge them.  Enter Alan Cumming as the villainous Wyatt, who literally drops out of the sky.  The always bold actor hams his way through his role as a corrupt ban manager, dangling instant fame and riches before the hungry, unknown Pussycats.  In later years, Cumming said that his portrayal of Wyatt was “some of the most shameless acting I’ve ever done.  And that’s saying something!”  He’s not wrong.

One level above Wyatt lurks Naomi, a bombastically conniver in a high-tech subterranean lair worthy of a Bond villain.  Parker Posey plays the part with glorious hambone panache while dressed like a warped, punked-out, proto-Effie Trinket.  Together, they will secretly bombard the world with their consumerist subliminal messaging that they embed in the music they sell.  It may not be the most original scheme, but it works for this juvenile source material.  Along for the ride (but not in on the nefariousness) are Missi Pyle as the ever-sour Alexandra and Paulo Costanzo as her brother, Alexander.  Gabriel Mann plays Josie’s power-crush, the dense but sympathetic Alan M.

Mill Creek’s twentieth anniversary Blu-ray edition gathers vintage extras from the old DVD, including two nearly thirty-minute behind the scenes featurettes and the centerpiece, a scene-by-scene commentary by the directors and the producer.  As one may guess, they are fun people to listen to.  It’s too bad that Kaplan and Elfont didn’t get to helm more movies in the subsequent years.  All that to say, if anyone can make it to the final curtain of Josie and the Pussycats without giving in to the garish hilarity of it all, well… then you must simply be a dog person.