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Dustin Putman

Dustin's Review
Detroit Rock City (1999)
2 Stars

Directed by Adam Rifkin
Cast: Edward Furlong, Sam Huntington, James DeBello, Giuseppe Andrews, Lin Shaye, Natasha Lyonne, Melanie Lynskey, Shannon Tweed, Kevin Corrigan. Special Appearances: KISS (Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley, Ace Frehley, Peter Criss).
1999 – 94 minutes
Rated: Rated R (for profanity, sexual situations, drug use, violence, and nudity).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, August 14 1999.

Set over a 24-hour period in 1978, "Detroit Rock City," directed by first-timer Adam Rifkin, is nothing much more than an ode to the hard rock/heavy-metal music scene, particularly the band, KISS, fans of which this loud, lewd, and crude comedy was made exclusively for. You do not, however, have to like them in order to enjoy the film, as proven by myself. Watching the film, I was entertained for the most part, even though it was obvious where the story was going every step of the way, but once it was over, the nagging question on my mind, as well as probably everyone else's, was, "What exactly was the point?"

The movie doesn't take any time to get started, nor does it ever stop until the end credits begin, as we follow four stoner teenage boys who are determined to acquire tickets to the highly-publicized KISS concert in Detroit, Michigan, no matter what. Comprising an amateur metal band of their own, the members that make up KISS are their ultimate role models, and seeing them perform live has been something they have been attempting to do for three years straight. Once in Detroit, the film breaks off to follow each of the four protagonists on their own wild and wacky adventures. After Jam's (Sam Huntington) religious, chain-smoking mother (Lin Shaye) catches him with KISS tickets (whom she has dubbed the "Knights In Satan's Service"), she quickly dispatches of them and takes him to a boarding school. When Jam's three friends break him out of the joint and make it to the titled city, Jam's mother, there to protest the concert with other outraged parents, sees her son in the crowd and forces him to go to church and make a confession. While in there, a girl from school (Melanie Lynskey) who has had a long-time crush on him and is about the move away with her parents, runs into him and they have a quick tryst within the confessional. The leader of the group, Hawk (Edward Furlong), doesn't have enough money to pay the scalper, so he enters a strip contest at the local bar, and inadvertently catches the eyes of a voluptuous older woman (Shannon Tweed). Trip (James DeBello) attempts to steal some tickets off of a young kid at a convenience store, and gets into big trouble when he finds the child is with his much, much bigger older brother. And Lex (Giuseppe Andrews) must save Christine (Natasha Lyonne), a teenage disco diva who is being held hostage by a pair of car thieves.

"Detroit Rock City" has enough extra energy for several movies, and with a constant fast pace and 94-minute running time, doesn't overstay its welcome. Slight, stupid, and sparingly sweet in a few spots, the film fails, in part, due to the characters themselves. All of the subplots that are developed throughout are instantly dropped once the foursome inevitably make it inside the concert, watch KISS perform one song, and...well, that's it. The end credits blaze across the scene so quickly that it not only leaves you feeling unsatisfied, but also clueless as to why some of the up-and-coming actors even appeared in the movie, only to be wasted.

The performances of the four main characters are servicable enough, but are no match for the colorful supporting players, all of which give it their valiant best, even when they have nothing to do. After making a splash in Woody Allen's magical 1996 musical, "Everyone Says I Love You," Natasha Lyonne has mostly been placed in small secondary roles (also see "Krippendorf's Tribe" and "American Pie") that do not give this big talent nearly enough to do. As the disco-loving Christine, Lyonne garners one of the film's biggest laughs but disappears for almost the rest of the film, only to make a brief appearance towards the end that has no payoff. Also a standout is Lin Shaye, as Jam's strict mother. Shaye not only has the most fun in her somewhat juicy comic role, but is also downright hysterically funny, and has a concluding scene that is even a little touching. Shaye, notable mostly for her standout role in "There's Something About Mary," is quickly becoming one of the queens of the "supporting roles," right up there with Janeane Garofalo and Parker Posey. And Melanie Lynskey, as the girl who pines for Jam from afar, momentarily brings some unexpected warmth to her scenes, but like the rest of the minor characters, leaves the proceedings too soon.

With one of the best film soundtracks to come along in some time (right up there with "Dick" and "Summer of Sam"), the '70s music keeps the movie energetic and lively, with a few original, lesser-known song choices. Additionally, the outstanding costume designs and set decoration capture the period flavor extremely well, and the lively cinematography, by John R. Leonetti, often feels like you are watching a prolonged MTV advertisement. "Detroit Rock City" is a passable time-waster, but shouldn't director Rifkin have aimed just a little bit higher in the substance department, so that the movie wouldn't be totally devoid of a reason for being? Coming at a time when "American Pie" has already depicted four boys losing their virginity at the same time, and "Forces of Nature" involved a comic scene in a strip joint, most of the movie feels just plain outdated, even for being set over two decades ago. A nice, respective try, but "Detroit Rock City" just misses the mark.

©1999 by Dustin Putman

Dustin Putman