THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


A confession: I am 32 years old and I watch MTV's popular show "Total Request Live." I don't care for a lot of the music (I'll take Barenaked Ladies or Everclear over N*SYNC and Britney Spears any day) but I am fascinated watching "of-the-moment" superstars made and forgotten overnight. As a child - back in the days pre-MTV - I watched a lot of cartoons. One of them was "Josie and the Pussycats." Most teens today are probably unfamiliar with that show, but it is now the basis for a live-action movie which, quite cleverly, sends up TRL-style pop culture.

The film begins with an insanely funny parody of the Backstreet Boys "I Want It That Way" video. A fictional boy band called DuJour steps off a private plane to be greeted by hysterically screaming female fans. They launch into a song called "Backdoor Lover" (the homoerotic overtones of which are dead on perfect) and dance around in an elaborately choreographed routine. As this mini-show occurs on the airport tarmac, the teen girls go into a hormonal craze. The members of DuJour are played by a real-life posse of actors including Seth Green ("Buffy the Vampire Slayer"), Donald Faison ("Clueless") and Breckin Myer ("Go"), which makes the scene even more hilarious; these guys look like they are relishing the chance to make fun of boy bands.

DuJour is then killed in a plane crash. Left without a band, their manager, Wyatt Frame (Alan Cumming), needs a new group to turn into superstars. By total accident, he stumbles upon the title group - singer/guitarist Josie (Rachael Leigh Cook), bassist Val (Rosario Dawson), and drummer Melody (Tara Reid). Josie and the Pussycats long for a record deal and are only slightly suspicious when Frame signs them without ever hearing a note of music.

Tara Reid, Rachael Leigh Cook, and Rosario Dawson are Josie and the Pussycats
In reality, Frame is a bad guy in cahoots with an evil record company CEO named Fiona (Parker Posey) to plant subliminal messages into rock music. The messages range from product placement, urging teens to buy certain brands of clothing, to mandates of style ("Heath Ledger is the new Matt Damon!"). Frame and Fiona are, in essence, the arbiters of cool, making sure that mindless teenagers are told what soda to drink, what shoes to wear, and what colors are fashionable. They put these messages, and others ("Josie and the Pussycats are the best band ever!"), into the group's music. Before long, Josie and crew are hot as can be. But the villains want to phase out Val and Melody to make Josie a solo star.

The humor in Josie and the Pussycats is aimed squarely at the TRL audience. For instance, Frame arranges for Val and Melody to go on TRL, where host Carson Daly is preprogrammed to kill them. If you aren't hip to all things MTV, you won't know how funny it is to see the usually genial Daly threatening someone with a bat. Or that the scene is given extra punch by the fact that Tara Reid is his real-life fiancee. (One suspects that they won't show this scene at the wedding reception.) There are many pokes and jabs at other teen pop stars along the way. The more keyed in you are to the phenomenon, the more likely you are to get the jokes.

Above and beyond that, the movie is a wicked satire of pop culture consumerism. The premise is that today's teenagers are automatons, susceptible to the influence of good advertising. And it's true - hype has really become the language of our time. Adolescents in particular seem to drift from one trend to the next, aimlessly following some fad that goes as quickly as it comes. (I wonder where all those teenage girls who vowed to love Hanson forever have gone.) There's a great scene in which the band arrives in a neo-Times Square area of a major city, only to find that there aren't really any buildings - just billboards.

Josie and the Pussycats was written and directed by Deborah Kaplan and Harry Elfont, who made a film I loved a few years ago called Can't Hardly Wait. Although their movies are very commercial, they are also quite smart. This one sends up the seemingly effortless way in which trends explode, even when no one particularly seems to like the item they are all compulsively buying. And, in a delicious piece of irony, this satire comes packaged in a movie that is pitched to the exact audience it is ridiculing.

The performances are functional - nothing to write home about, but then again, they aren't designed to be. The music itself is mixed. One or two songs are catchy, the rest are generic. Of course, that fact only lends itself to the satire. If the soundtrack hits the top ten, it will be a sign that the so-called "corporate synergy" has worked again. Josie and the Pussycats is a lot of fun, a movie filled with laughs and enough ammunition to hit the satiric bullseye more often than not.

( out of four)

Josie and the Pussycats is rated PG-13 for sensuality and some language. The running time is 1 hour and 38 minutes.
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