The boyband Du Jour are the biggest thing in music, selling millions of records, packing the fans in at stadium concerts, and shifting merchandise by the ton. However, after one personal appearance, they are on their private jet when they ask their manager (Alan Cumming) about the curious background noise on their songs. This is his cue to fetch the pilot and jump out of the plane with parachutes, leaving the band to die in a crash. Now he needs a new band to exploit: what about... The Pussycats, an unknown all-girl band from the local area, currently trying to get off the ground by playing bowling alleys?
They are swiftly signed to Megarecords and hyped as the next big thing - but they too find out their records are being used for unscrupulous goings-on, which was where the biggest bone of contention lay with audiences and critics alike back in 2001. This was a satirical musical comedy based on the Archie comic book and the subsequent cartoon series from Hanna Barbera, one of their Scooby-Doo clones that littered kids TV schedules, and indeed still were in reruns when this was released. The Pussycats in the movie were the superbly-cast trio Josie (Rachael Leigh Cook), the leader, Valerie (Rosario Dawson) the smart one, and Melody (Tara Reid), the daft one, and they played, well, I suppose you'd call it bubblegum rock.
Initially unbeknownst to the band, their music is laced full of subliminal messages to brainwash the kids into buying whatever the huge corporations want them to buy, and the film makes a big joke about how easily led people are by the power of advertising and how it has drenched everyday life. But that was pretty hard to take when not a minute goes by without yet another item of product placement appearing on screen - even though the producers received no money for them, and clueless critics amateur and professional alike were unimpressed with what they regarded as rank hypocrisy. By showing all those logos it makes its point, but the film was still a vehicle for advertisers, and fully aware of the double standards it was using for parody.
For such a throwaway, kitschy, breezy film, it was oh so refreshingly cynical, saying that you can't be successful wthout selling out, so that even if you did get where you were in the stardom stakes by sheer talent alone, you would need to play a very old showbiz game that secured that location in the celebrity firmament, and if you stopped, good luck sustaining that career for there was always someone new to take your place. Whether subliminals were needed at all to get the masses to behave like sheep was very much up for debate: you get the impression the crowd would have cheered even if the band had played "Shaddap Ya Face" or "Ernie (The Fastest Milkman in the West)" at the end. There was the usual moral about "being yourself" that you get in these types of teen movies, but even this was sent up mercilessly.
As a bonus, nice turns included Cumming and Parker Posey as the baddies, the latter essaying the sort of power-crazed mastermind who would not be out of place in a James Bond instalment, though her motives are amusingly pathetic while remaining horribly relatable to the target audience. That could have been why Josie and the Pussycats was not embraced by the majority, it was telling the independently minded what they wanted to hear, but if you had genuinely liked the corporate pop of The Spice Girls or The Backstreet Boys, this was basically telling you your taste was led by the nose by banal but keenly applied advertising techniques. Fortunately, such harsh lampoons were lifted by a truly entertaining sense of the ridiculous. This would make a good double bill with They Live, another misunderstood cult item. Also with: a cheeky monkey called Dr Zaius, and outtakes at the end. So where's the Captain Caveman and the Teen Angels movie, then? Of course, all this subliminal advertising wouldn't work on me. Can't Hardly Wait really was underrated, wasn't it? Music by John Frizell.