`Detroit Rock City': KISS it off

August 13, 1999|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN STAFF

KISS rules!

Well, maybe not in today's universe, and perhaps never in any universe save for the one presented in "Detroit Rock City," the tale of four friends in 1970s Detroit willing to do anything -- ANYTHING -- to see their idols perform.

The film's press materials try to label "Detroit Rock City" as a coming-of-age story, but that's giving it way too much credit. The film is as mindless as the musicians it celebrates -- why pretend it's more than it is? What we have here is your basic rock-and-roll film, in which kids defy their parents in order to enjoy the forbidden music they've been warned will take them straight to hell. It's a theme that hasn't changed since the days of Bill Haley and the Comets.

Hawk, Jam, Trip and Lex are four borderline troublemakers for whom the only joy in life is listening to their beloved KISS. So when Jam's mother, a shrewish defender of the faith who's convinced KISS is an acronym for Knights In Service to Satan, gets ahold of their concert tickets and burns them, the boys are forced to resort to desperate measures.

That's pretty much the entire story: Boys get tickets, boys lose tickets, boys struggle to get tickets back. And all's fair, apparently, in the pursuit of KISS. (Small wonder band member Gene Simmons is one of the film's producers; "Detroit Rock City" is nothing if not a giant KISS ego trip.)

Moviegoers of a certain age -- this reviewer included -- will get a chuckle out of the film's re-creation of the 1970s; even if you never knew anyone so devoted to KISS (I'm not sure the group was ever as popular as the film would have you believe), you knew kids like this, for whom school was nothing but the time between parties, concerts and opportunities to do a little headbanging. Sometimes, the film struggles too hard to go over the top -- we could do without Edward Furlong's character puking into a blender -- but generally, it seems aware that it's no more than dumb fun.

All four young leads -- Furlong, Sam Huntington, Giuseppe Andrews and James De Bello -- have a lot of fun with their roles. There's a brief appearance by Shannon Tweed, as the older blond sexpot who's the object of every teen-age boy's fantasies. Even the members of KISS themselves show up in full ghoulish regalia; hard to believe these guys are still alive, much less still performing, after a quarter-century.

`Detroit Rock City'

Starring Edward Furlong, Giuseppe Andrews, Sam Huntington and James De Bello

Directed by Adam Rifkin

Released by New Line Cinema

Running time: 94 minutes

Rated R (strong language, drug use and sex-related content)

Sun score: **

Pub Date: 8/13/99

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