Josie and the Pussycats is not a comedy, and it's even possible the movie's not a work of fiction, despite being "based on" Dan DeCarlo's 38-year-old Archie Publishing comic book. There's very little that's funny about a movie that reveals, in horrific detail, what some of us have suspected for years: Record labels are inserting subliminal messages into the songs of pop acts, ordering teens to buybuybuy everything from soft drinks to tampons to chain-store coffee.
The entirety of the music business is behind the scam; so is the government, which explains why no one's really too interested in shutting down Napster. When TRL host Carson Daly shows up as himself, swinging a baseball bat at the head of one of the Pussycats (played by his fianc´e, Tara Reid), he confirms our suspicions by admitting he's "a key player in the conspiracy to brainwash the youth of America." Kids, we've been telling you that for years. Perhaps Kurt Cobain found out that music execs dismiss nonconformists as kids who "smell like teen spirit"; he just had to be gotten rid of.
The latest boy band, DuJour, suffers such a fate: One minute, they're crooning their latest single to throngs of rabid teenyboppers; the next, they're crashing to earth in their private plane, inside which someone vomited up a Target store. But theirs is no accident: Greasy label exec Wiley Frame (Alan Cumming) sends them to their demise when they stumble across the secret messages embedded in one of their remixed singles; they're too smart -- and too stupid -- for their own good. Within 24 hours, the shelves are lined with a limited-edition commemorative boxed set: DuJour 2000-2001.
Josie is but a fragile frame upon which co-writers and co-directors Deborah Kaplan and Harry Elfont can hang their cautionary tale. Plotwise, there's little beyond the familiar story of newcomers rising from obscurity to stardom, only to stumble and crash before inevitable retribution and redemption. This time, it's three cuties from Riverdale: the willful Josie (Rachael Leigh Cook), the ditzy Melody (Reid), and the suspicious Val (Rosario Dawson). They're lifelong buddies who play the Riverdale Pin Palace, hoping be discovered. Wiley is their savior: Without ever hearing the band, he signs them to the label and lands them on the cover of Rolling Stone -- and then gets them in the studio.
Universal Pictures is taking a big risk with Josie: It's an anti-advertisement for itself, a subversive piece of work that tells its audience, "Hey, you're all stupid sheep for buying Josie and the Pussycat T-shirts, Josie and the Pussycat ears, and all that other crap we're trying to sell you. Now, be free-thinkers and buy our merchandise."