By Mark Caro

Chicago Tribune Movie Writer

"Detroit Rock City" DOESN’T ROCK, MAN!!!!

Check it out: These four young dudes live in Cleveland in 1978, and they’re jacked because they scored tickets to see Kiss in concert in Detroit. Kiss was mighty popular back then, and if you’re too young to know that, don’t worry. This movie tells you over and over and over.

Well, whaddaya expect when Gene Simmons, that long-tongued Kiss singer, produced the movie? Next thing you know, Gabe Kaplan will produce a movie about kids who sit around all day going "Kotter rules!!!!"

Anyway, man, these guys got these tickets, but you know they’re just gonna lose them so they hafta go on some, like, odyssey to get to this concert. Turns out the blond kid named Jam (Sam Huntington) has this real witch of a mom (Lin Shaye, the gross chick of "There’s Something About Mary" and "Kingpin") who’s like a religious freak and general old bat. Yo, lady, why’d ya name your kid Jam?

When she sits down to listen to a Carpenters album, she doesn’t realize that Jam has put Kiss’ "Love Gun" in the record sleeve, so that nasty guitar rock starts blaring out of her speakers, and she’s so startled she spits — just like they do in the movies! And then she can’t turn off the music no matter how hard she whacks that stereo. Boy, I forgot how hard it is to make a record skip!

Meanwhile, the four high-school dudes with their stringy ’70s hair are pumped for the show. Aside from Jam, the kind of sweet guy, there’s Hawk (Edward Furlong), the leader guy (he drives the car while he and the boys smoke doobies), and Trip (James De Bello), who’s, like, tripped out and a dunderhead, and Lex (Giuseppe Andrews), who’s not got much to say, but, hey, his mom’s got a car!

After some school hijinks (hidin’ in the girls room — yes indeed!), the boys find themselves in a pickle: No tickets, and Jam has landed in Catholic boarding school. But never fear, they’re gonna get to that concert! First order: busting out Jam — no problemo when you can deliver a ’shroom pizza to the head priest (Joe Flaherty). Trivia nugget: The trippy stoned-priest-point-of-view camerawork here looks exactly like the trippy stoned-dog-point-of-view camerawork in that David Spade stinkbomb "Lost & Found."

There’s also a road-trip section, as the dudes mix it up with some disco-loving "Guidos" and pick up a glam disco chick (Natasha Lyonne of "The Slums of Beverly Hills"). Then they get to Detroit, where the four go on their own solo adventures and eventually reunite — just like the guys in Kiss. (Remember those Kiss solo albums in 1978? They were lame, man, and then they got back together, and suddenly Kiss was lame, too.)

Man, it was cool to be a rock ’n’ roll boy in the’70s. Hot chicks are throwing themselves at you, pouring drinks for you, callin’ you a hero. Life is sweet.

About the only kick-butt thing that doesn’t happen to these guys is that no one heaves buckets of money at them to make their dream movie. No matter — "Detroit Rock City" feels like someone did. It’s the ultimate burn-out teen fantasy: Adults are all jerks, squares and morons shown in big close-ups to make them look extra stupid. Everyone else who tries cracking down on our heroes gets payback big-time.

The winners are the folks who love sex, drugs and rock’n’ rolllllll! Check out that topless hottub backstage! Woo-eee! Kiss knows how to live!

Except, you know, a rock ’n’ roll film should be funny-crazy — not just a big, dumb promo for some over-the-hill dudes in makeup who are trying to sell today’s kids on yesterday’s glory by championing deliquency.

It’s just a big bag of gas, man!!!!

"Detroit Rock City"

1 star (out of 4)

Directed by Adam Rifkin; written by Carl V. Dupre; photographed by John R. Leonetti; edited by Mark Goldblatt, Peter Schink; production designed by Steve Hardie; music by J. Peter Robinson; produced by Gene Simmons, Barry Levine, Kathleen Haase. A New Line Cinema release; opens Friday. Running time: 1:38. MPAA rating: R (strong language, drug use, sex-related content).


Lex/Giuseppe Andrews

Trip/James De Bello

Hawk/Edward Furlong

Jam/Sam Huntington

Mrs. Bruce/Lin Shaye

Beth/Melanie Lynskey