KISS strutter their stuff in ``Detroit''

Detroit Rock City (Comedy, color, R, 1:35)

By Dennis Harvey

SAN FRANCISCO (Variety) - A high-water mark in the burgeoning subgenre of Product Placement Cinema, ``Detroit Rock City'' not only functions well as a 95-minute commercial for the soundtrack (starring never-say-die rockers KISS), but it is also a de facto KISS song in itself -- which is to say it's crude, sexist, ear-splittingly loud and a helluva lotta fun for anyone suffering from past or present testosterone overload.

Designed to kill brain cells on contact, '70s-set comedy won't win many critical kudos, but looks to score nicely with teens and nostalgia hounds at the wickets. Ancillary biz should also prove crunchy, with kids initially shut out by the R rating likely to beat a path to the vid store.

Simple premise presents Hawk (Edward Furlong), Jam (Sam Huntington), Lex (Giuseppe Andrews) and Trip (James De Bello) as consummate sub-adult KISS fans in 1978 Cleveland -- they've even formed their own cover band. All are eagerly awaiting tonight's big concert in Detroit. But there's one formidable obstacle: drummer Jam's mom (Lin Shaye), a Farrah-haired harridan who decries such ``devil's music.'' When the precious tickets fall into her hands, she wastes no time consigning them to holy fire -- then shipping Jam off to Catholic prep school.

He's promptly rescued from this fate by his buddies (who spike the headmaster priest's pizza delivery with hallucinogens); they've also managed to win replacement tix via a radio contest. But this happy ending is premature; upon arriving in Detroit, the foursome discover their prize has been given away to runners-up. The boys separate in a last-ditch effort to scrounge up concert entree. Hawk finds himself competing for cash at a ladies-only strip club; Trip attempts to strong-arm a KISS-Army enlistee at a convenience store, with disastrous results; Lex tries to sneak into Cobo Hall via backstage.

Poor Jam runs smack into Mom once again -- she's leading a mothers' anti-KISS rally at a church across the street. But when dragged into the confessional booth, he finds himself deflowered there by a fellow student, Beth (Melanie Lynskey). Hawk likewise enjoys carnal largess, from strip-club benefactress Amanda (KISS bassist and credited producer Gene Simmons' girlfriend Shannon Tweed). And playing the hero during a well-timed store robbery, Trip earns a cashier's amorous gratitude. Meanwhile, Lex rescues his parents' car and erstwhile hitchhiker Christine (Natasha Lyonne) from lecherous thieves.

Lucky in love, the boys remain unlucky in concert access -- though not for long. Scenarist Carl V. Dupre finesses this point posthaste, allowing the lads to savor their heroes in a climactic concert that features the title song performed in full pyrotechnic frenzy. If screenplay is a barely logical, sub-literate pileup of improbable incidents, director Adam Rifkin (best known for the '91 cult noir ``The Dark Backward'' and '94 Charlie Sheen vehicle ``The Chase'') compensates with suitably gonzo visual energy. Pacing is breathless, cued by an endless scroll of high-octane oldies on the soundtrack. Performers amiably deliver the high spirits called for; Lyonne stands out as a disco doll with a little air-guitar in her soul.

For the record, ``Detroit Rock City'' isn't the first full-on KISS promo tool to hit screens -- the band starred in ``KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park,'' an NBC ratings smash in '78. Among in-jokes here is the casting of ``Kiss Me Guido'' hunk Nick Scotti as a polyester-clad ``guido'' foiled by protaganonists early on. Tech package is slick.

Hawk ......... Edward Furlong

Lex .......... Giuseppe Andrews

Trip ......... James De Bello

Jam .......... Sam Huntington

Mrs. Bruce ... Lin Shaye

Beth ......... Melanie Lynskey

Christine .... Natasha Lyonne

Elvis ........ Miles Dougal

Kenny ........ Nick Scotti

Barbara ...... Emmanuelle Chriqui

Bobby ........ David Quane

Amanda Finch . Shannon Tweed

Cashier ...... Kristin Booth

With: KISS (Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley, Ace Frehley, Peter Criss).

A New Line Cinema release of a Takoma Entertainment/Base-12 Prods./KISSNation production. Produced by Gene Simmons, Barry Levine, Kathleen Haase. Executive producers, Michael De Luca, Brian Witten. Co-producer, Art Schaefer.

Directed by Adam Rifkin. Screenplay, Carl V. Dupre. Camera (Deluxe color), John R. Leonetti; editors, Mark Goldblatt, Peter Schink; music, J. Peter Robinson; music supervisors, Spring Aspers, Allan Kaufman; production designer, Steve Hardie; art director, Lucinda Zak; set decorator, Cal Loucks; costume designer, Rosanna Norton; sound (SDDS/Dolby Digital/DTS), Steve Aaron; associate producer, Tim Sullivan; assistant director, Ian Foster Woolf; second unit directors, Tony Markes, Schink; second unit camera, Harry Lake; casting, Valier McCaffrey. Reviewed at Variety Club Screening Room, San Francisco, Aug. 2, 1999.