Teen humor in `Detroit' is sealed with Kiss

by Paul Sherman
Friday, August 13, 1999 (``Detroit Rock City.'' Rated R.)

You need not be a Kiss fan to get a little kick out of ``Detroit Rock City,'' a comedy about four teens trying to get into a Kiss concert in 1978. Named for an old Kiss song, it features its music and an onstage cameo by the band (Gene Simmons also co-produced the movie).

But the movie's soundtrack is chockablock with mid- and late-1970s guitar rock, with most of it - Thin Lizzy's ``The Boys Are Back in Town'' and ``Jailbreak,'' Cheap Trick's ``Surrender,'' the Ramones' ``Blitzkrieg Bop'' and ``I Wanna Be Sedated'' - well outclassing the sludgy Kiss songs. Similarly, the action only peripherally concerns Kiss, since the teens' quest could involve any band. The movie follows in the tradition of such previous rock films as ``I Wanna Hold Your Hand'' and ``Rock 'n' Roll High School,'' about, respectively, Beatles and Ramones fans faced with many of the same obstacles as our Kiss fans here. While not quite in their league, this film earns a spot alongside them.

Writer Carl Dupre and director Adam Rifkin (``The Dark Backward'') sympathetically tap into the typical theme of teens trying to buck the odds and have a good time. Teachers, clergy, Qiana-wearing disco kids, one Bible-thumping mom (Farrelly brothers regular Lin Shaye) and their own limited brain power stand between head-bangers Hawk (Edward Furlong), Jam (Sam Huntington), Trip (James De Bello) and Lex (Guiseppe Andrews) and their sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll dreams.

It's the mom who destroys the buds' tickets, the clergyman (Joe Flaherty of ``SCTV'') who tries to keep Jam apart from his friends, a Camaro full of disco fans they tangle with on the highway to Detroit and their own dimness (or at least Trip's) that cause them to lose a radio station ticket giveaway they might have won.

The humor is broad and silly, but generally on target. The raunchiness occasionally comes off as forced attempts to seem cool to the movie's impressionable target audience. Remarkably, the action is still amusing after the four pals split up to try their luck snagging tickets. This part of the story includes romantic subplots for the four, including a strong performance from Melanie Lynskey, Kate Winslet's ``Heavenly Creatures'' co-star. There's an underdeveloped sweetness to this section that's slightly smothered, though, and could have made the film more than just a goof. But anyone expecting finesse from a ``Kiss movie,'' instead of excess, is missing the point. ``Detroit Rock City'' finds resourceful ways to blow off its anti-authority steam.

Tongue up on this one.