Comic Book Movies 101: Josie & The Pussycats

Any film that begins with a parody of a boy-band singing a song delightfully entitled “Backdoor Lover” shows promise. And the fact the band members are played by funny guys such as Seth Green (Austin Powers), Brekin Meyer (Road Trip) and Donald Faison (Scrubs) makes you think that, against all expectations, you might really be in for something good.

But then a smarmy record label exec played by Alan Cumming sends the band plummeting to their deaths in their private jet, and what might be the best part of the film comes to an untimely end.

The archetypal fictional girl-band that, along with Jem and the Holograms, fuelled many a young girl’s dreams of rock stardom, Josie and the Pussycats have been around for years. They first appeared in an Archie Comics series that was published from the early sixties until the eighties. In the seventies they got their own Hanna-Barbera Saturday morning cartoon that bore more than a passing resemblance to Scooby Doo.

This latest incarnation, written and directed by Harry Elfont and Deborah Kaplan – the writing/directing couple that brought us Can’t Hardy Wait – owes more to the television series than it does to the comics. A bit of a mixed bag, it walks a teetering line between raunchy, cynical, adult humour and standard schmaltzy teen fare.

At times it’s fairly successful as a topical, well-cast comedy. It even makes some interesting comments about modern consumerist culture – the evil plot that must of course be uncovered by the intrepid trio is a conspiracy to control teen spending through subliminal messaging. Which beats the evil-fairground-owner-masquerading-as-a-ghost any day. Some nice post-modern and self-referential moments in the film provide a few chuckles too. “Why are you here?” “Because I’m in the comic” etc…

The presence of actors such as Paulo Constanzo (Road Trip) as the band’s manager Alexander, Missi Pyle (Dodgeball) as his sister Alexandra, Parker Posey (Best in Show) as the evil villain with aspirations of world domination, and of course Mr Cumming, give this film plenty of opportunity for wry, quirky humour. But it’s held back here, not given free rein – perhaps in case the audience turns out to be a bit young? Those expecting Posey to repeat her hilarious performances in Christopher Guest’s mockumentaries will be disappointed – aspects of them are here but, as with her co-stars, it feels as if she’s just going through the motions, albeit rather oddball ones.

Similarly, those expecting ribald, coming-of-age American Pie-style laughs will be left short too, despite a promising start and the band name getting some much-needed juvenile shtick.

Even with their limitations, however, the supporting cast are in a whole other league from the three mediocre leading ladies. Josie and her Pussycat band-mates manage to convey even fewer dimensions than their animated 2D counterparts. If Elfont and Kaplan are making a concerted effort to take the romantic high school ‘friends forever’ path, I’m not sure they travel very far with these three. As with most US heroines, they display a commendable level of sassiness and lack of stereotypical girlyness – some of that original Josie and the Pussycats inspiration remains ­– but even so there’s little to hold onto here. Nothing to make us feel any sort of affection for these feline females. Speaking of which, the leopard print leotards are conspicuously absent…

Had this film decided which way it wanted to go – and my preference would have been for it to make the most of its amazing supporting cast, taking an amusing Scott Pilgrim vs the World approach to talking about relationships, media and reality – it really could have been something. Instead it’s just something mildly entertaining that you wouldn’t mind stumbling across on telly on a boring, grey Sunday afternoon.

Kathy Alys

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