It’s 1978: bell-bottoms, day-glo, lava lamps and rock-n-roll define the generation. What’s a high-school rock band from Cleveland got on their mind? Getting out and hitting the city: Detroit Rock City! Join Hawk (Edward Furlong, American History X, Terminator 2: Judgement Day) and his three best friends as they head out to pay their respects to the kings of rock, KISS. Part road trip, part coming-of-age comedy, part crazy ride through the 70s, this movie rocks and rolls all the way through!
Detroit Rock City 7.25
When I heard that Kiss were making a movie, I couldn’t help but wonder what they were expecting, so late in the game as this.
It was, after all, 20 years too late: they were well past their prime and all they had to show for it was a nostalgia act. They had reformed the original line-up and performed in make-up, they had released their first studio album in forever (and it had been well over fifteen years since their last recording with Peter Criss and Ace Frehley!), but I didn’t get the impression that people cared that much – despite the success of their 1996 world tour.
So when ‘Detroit Rock City’ was announced, I couldn’t help but dismiss it. When it took forever to get produced and released, I became even more sceptical of its value and significance. And when it tanked at the box office, it only served to confirm what I already believed: Kiss were daydreaming when they thought that there was any real demand for them by anyone other than the Kiss Army – their true, devoted fans. By the end of the nineties, the public had largely moved on to other things, and Kiss was merely one of many dusty old relics from the past.
Still, as a (very) mild Kiss enthusiast, my curiosity was piqued when the DVD came into the video store that I worked in at the turn of the new millennium. It was released on the New Line Cinema banner, a company that was then at the forefront in providing bonus content with their films. This DVD was certainly no slouch. I was completely blown away not just by the fact that it included four full-length commentaries accompanying the film (including one with all four band members! ), but that there was a multi-angle presentation of the Kiss concert – amongst others things. Wow!
So the DVD remained on my radar ever since, even though I didn’t watch it while I could get it for free at the video store. I also couldn’t be bothered to buy it because I had this terrible feeling that it would end up littering my shelves, but I eventually wound up picking it up for my partner’s teenage son – a budding rock musician who enjoyed some of the classic rock acts and who, I presumed, might also dig this teen comedy. I was right, thankfully, and got the chance to watch the movie in the process.
Well, while it is actually a decent enough comedy for what it is, it also doesn’t serve up anything new; it pretty much throws in all the conventions of the genre into the blender and is a middle-of-the-road pastiche. Having said this, it could easily have been a terrible carbon copy of many other films, so its success at putting the pieces together makes it -to me, at least- a nice homage to genre classics instead of a miserable mish-mash rip off. I guess one could easily do worse.
The best part of the film is when the four guys split off to find tickets to the Kiss concert. For some reason, I found the characters much more interesting as separate entities, as though they kind of blurred each other out by being in too close contact. By setting the characters up in the first part of the film and then giving each their own adventure, it made them appealing in ways that they regrettably weren’t until then. It’s not to say that they elicit warm and fuzzies, but at least we could relate to them or laugh at their antics more easily.
Having said this, on paper, each adventure is extremely lame. Between the stripping contest, the bullying of a kid in Kiss make-up, the sneaking backstage at the concert and the confrontation with a group of mothers protesting Kiss, there’s not much to speak of. But, inexplicably, I found these bits especially entertaining. Perhaps it’s because they were all in character, and made sense for each of the guys. Or maybe it was just more fun than the first part of the film. Or maybe it’s simply because the bar had been set pretty low by then.
The thing is, right before then, we were treated to a relatively disappointing road movie segment. I like road movies as much as the next person (‘Road Trip’ is all-time favourite of mine, actually), but this part of the picture was both moronic and boring at once. By then, Jam had been sent to a boarding school, and the rest of the gang had to break him out. This was done in such haste that it felt as though the filmmakers wanted to get it over with. The rescue was preposterous, too – the only way this could have been even remotely amusing would be to be under the influence. There’s no other way to enjoy this. And their roadside conflict with disco fans was no better.
But if there’s anything that galls me about ‘Detroit Rock City’, it’s the fact that Kiss are barely featured in the film! For a motion picture that revolves around the band, it’s surprising that they only show up at the end for a quickie concert – a supremely disappointing one, in that they only play an abbreviated version of the title song before wrapping up the whole movie immediately thereafter, like a premature ejaculation on your wedding night. Frankly, I had hoped for a little bit more presence, or even interaction, à la Ramones in ‘Rock and Rock High School’. Even though I’m not a big Kiss fan, that would have put a big grin on my face. So I can imagine how gutted die-hard fans must have been!
This extends to the soundtrack, even. While there are plenty of Kiss tracks played or referenced throughout ‘Detroit Rock City’, it’s an underwhelming amount given that the picture is Kiss-themed. In fact, a mere 11 out of the 59 (so almost 1 out of 6! ) songs in the picture are by Kiss. While this means that the setting is more realistic, given the musical landscape of the day, and it shows commendable restraint by a band that usually knows no bounds, it’s a total letdown. Still, for fans of classic rock, it’s a most excellent soundtrack filled with lots of (obvious) classics by Thin Lizzy, AC/DC, Ramones, Sweet and countless others.
The acting is what you’d expect from this type of fare. There is nothing to see here. But I would like mention just how disappointed with Edward Furlong’s career since his amazing ‘Terminator 2’ debut. Things got really low: he looked completely burnt out in ‘Detroit Rock City’ and, to date, this was his last (relatively) high-profile gig. A real shame. As well, I must express dismay at just how scary Sharon Tweed (Gene Simmons’ long-time partner) looks. Eek. She’s had SO MUCH plastic surgery that it’s gag-inducing to look at her. And that was back in 1998, when she barely in her forties!!! Double-eek.
Anyway, all in all, ‘Detroit Rock City’ is an enjoyable enough romp for those who like teen flicks and love to rock and roll all nite. So it’s a conventional comedy with a lot of déjà vu and clichés thrown in. Who cares? If you like that sort of humour, you’re well served indeed. Sure, on the one hand, it means that it’s totally unoriginal. However, on the other hand, it also makes for a comfortable old shoe, or a warm blanket when it gets a little chilly. And you know what? There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. It may not make you rock and roll over, but it ain’t rock and roll hell either.