Everyone knows that adaptations of comic books and TV shows don't work, except as crass cash-ins of fan loyalty. But sometimes they do work (The Fugitive, X-Men), and sometimes they work exceptionally well. No one really needed a live-action update of Josie And The Pussycats, the comic book turned cartoon following the adventures of an all-girl rock band with a nose for mystery, but the new Josie stands out for reasons other than lowered expectations. Writer-directors Harry Elfont and Deborah Kaplan (Can't Hardly Wait) have turned the Archie Comics/Hanna-Barbera staple into a candy-colored satire of contemporary pop culture with a good nature that does nothing to blunt its bite. Perfectly pitched to a restless, consumption-mad era dominated by Total Request Live (which serves as the setting for one of its funniest extended gags), Josie stars Rachael Leigh Cook, Tara Reid, and Rosario Dawson as members of a hapless Riverdale band that gets a shot at the big time when manager Alan Cumming blows into town following the apparent untimely demise of Du Jour, a popular boy band that unfortunately questioned a mysterious noise buried deep in the mix of its new single. Knowing marketable faces when he sees them, Cumming whisks The Pussycats away to a version of New York City with more public ad space than the dystopia inhabited by Harrison Ford in Blade Runner. In fact, every surface seems to house an ad—even the walls of the fancy digs in which Cumming houses his new discoveries, whom he begins promoting before recording, or even hearing. Overwhelmed at first by good fortune, the band eventually becomes aware of a conspiracy headed by record executive Parker Posey, one extending from the highest reaches of the government down through Behind The Music. With scarcely a wasted moment, Elfont and Kaplan pair a witty visual sense to layers upon layers of gags, while never losing sight of their satirical targets. Every bit as subversive as it is sweet, Josie challenges its target audience to question the values of the world around it, steering closer to the spirit of The Matrix than the work of Freddie Prinze Jr. Its plot may not be especially efficient—characters tend to wander away for large portions of the movie—but it offers ample compensation, including winning performances by Cumming, Posey, and the Pussycats. Even the songs work in a film that not only proves far better than a Josie And The Pussycats update has any right to be, but also proves sharper and funnier than most comedies dare to dream.
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