Rated R - Running Time: 1:34 - Released 8/13/99

I have to admit I was never much of a fan of the '70s heavy metal group KISS. Not that I was the wrong age — I was a teenager when they were in their heyday; I was surrounded by classmates who had all their albums (and that's LP's, kids, not CD's). But I always thought they were the height of pretense and their success came not from their music but from the costumes-and-makeup gimmick. So the fact that I didn't like KISS led me to believe that I wouldn't care much for Adam Rifkin's Detroit Rock City, the movie about four kids who try desperately to get into one of their concerts.

I was wrong. While it could never be mistaken for a shining example of American cinema, I have to admit the film is a heck of a lot of fun. Like The Wedding Singer, it may not have a terribly broad audience, but for those of us who were there then, it will bring back a lot of memories. And as it promises, it features the band's four original members. Gene Simmons (with the tongue), Ace Frehley (with the fire coming out of his guitar), Paul Stanley (with the star over his eye), and Peter Criss (the drummer with the cat makeup) show up in person at the end, on stage, and perform the film's title song before a huge crowd of drooling teenagers. Thank God for makeup.

When we first meet our four high school heroes, they are practicing their craft in the basement. You see, Hawk (Edward Furlong, American History X), Lex (Guiseppe Andrews), Trip (James DeBello) and Jam (Sam Huntington) make up a Cleveland band called Mystery, and they apparently specialize in covers of KISS songs (I had a friend who was in exactly such a band). They are completely psyched, because tomorrow is 1) the last day of school, and 2) the night they see KISS live in concert. They have their tickets all ready; all they have to do is make the trip to Detroit. But Jam's mother, Mrs. Bruce (Lyn Shaye), a chain-smoking religious fanatic who claims that KISS stands for "Knights In Satan's Service," finds the tickets in Jam's pocket and destroys them. Not to be deflated, the boys borrow Lex's mom's car and drive to Detroit anyway, determined to see their beloved band somehow, even if it kills them. And it nearly does.

What Detroit Rock City lacks in intelligence it more than makes up for in energy. The story of the four friends going off in separate directions looking for tickets, and each making some kind of major character leap, is formulaic and riddled with foul language and foul behavior. But these 20-something actors clearly still have a good handle on what it's like to be in high school, and seem to revel in the '70s environment. Lending good supporting performances are Natasha Lyonne as disco-girl Christine and Melanie Lynskey (Ever After) as Jam's girlfriend Beth. Those two girls' names are just a few of the inside jokes aimed at KISS fans, and there are tons of other nods to us former '70s high schoolers. Also present, as one would expect, is a dynamite '70s soundtrack filled with not just KISS classics but every other kind of pop music from that era. If you're not a KISS fan, you'll still have some fun. If you are, Detroit Rock City will make you want to Shout It Out Loud. ****

Copyright 1999 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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