After their dream goes up in flames, some flaming youth take a teenage trip…
4 teenage boys, 1 joint obsession with KISS, and 1 road trip to get 4 tickets to see them play live in Detroit Rock City but with 100,000 obstacles along the way.
Detroit Rock City – THEATRICAL TRAILER, WARNER BROS
Before watching this film, I couldn’t tell you the title of a KISS song for love or money. Rock is not my bag unless it is an actor with the surname Hudson, a musical genre followed by “and Roll”, or a musical movie with “of Ages” after it. I had only seen Gene Simmons in his movies where he played a screen-stealing villain in Never Too Young to Die (1986) – with one time James Bond, George Lazenby – and Runaway (1984), starring Magnum PI himself, Tom Selleck and some killer drone-like spiders.
In a one-man quest to educate me about his kind of Rock, Darlin Husband suggested I watch Detroit Rock City (1999). This is now my favourite teen movie, even surpassing everything with Brat Packer and one-time crush, Andrew McCarthy (sorry Andrew). It’s a cult film for Rock music fans as it features the band KISS, has a rock soundtrack and was produced by Gene Simmons. This nostalgic multi-genre, adult-themed, coming-of-age movie encompasses a road trip and a bromantic comedy. It boasts the 20 something year old
John Connor Edward Furlong playing a totally convincing school-aged teenager.
It all begins as we return to 1978, and to Cleveland, Ohio. A middle-aged woman, Mrs Bruce (Lin Shaye) is seen getting ready to chill out with wine and a good book. She discovers after putting on her The Carpenters album that this record has been replaced by the KISS album (from 1977), Love Gun. It’s therefore anything but the soppy ballad she was expecting to sing along with. She’s livid and more disaster befalls her after she breaks the power button on her hi-fi when trying to switch this music off. Cue chaos.
Then we met our four teenage protagonists, who are rehearsing in their band a few blocks away. These dudes are having a jam session with Hawk (Edward Furlong) singing his wee heart out in their KISS tribute band. In no particular order, these dudes are Hawk (Edward Furlong), Lex (Giuseppe Andrews), Trip (James DeBello) and Jeremiah “Jam” Bruce (Sam Huntington). After some teenage boy banter, we learn they are more than excited as they have tickets to see their musical idols in concert in Detroit the following day.
This joy is dampened as one of these dudes spots the fuming Mrs Bruce, who appears at the window outside. It’s revealed she is Jam’s religious, chain-smoking and very conservative mother. Cue panic as these teens frantically hide the smell of drugs, pornographic magazines and more teenage – read in Jam’s case, incriminating – evidence. Mrs Bruce is really, really angry. Jam is mumhandled to her car. She berates her son for listening to this satanic-inspired music as they drive home, and she grounds him. The remaining boys are concerned about their friend missing the KISS concert saying he will be “suicidal”.
Then the film’s opening credits begin with a cool 1970s-inspired font. This funky font comes with a montage of all things retro, so I’m superhappy returning to my favourite decade. It’s a real treat for me with blink and miss it references of all things the 1970s. There are Realweegiemidget-friendly moments with Sonny and Cher, The Incredible Hulk (1977-82), Lee Majors and Charlie’s Angels (1976-81) that set the scene perfectly and these are interwoven with KISS references of all kinds (for Darlin Husband).
The next day, it is seen that Mrs Bruce has even secured Jam’s leg to his bed frame using an elastic exercise band. This tactic was so her son can’t leave the house. Hawk phones Jam in a panic after the boys discover that Jam took the wrong coat the night before. But they – and we – are reassured there are their beloved KISS tickets in one of the jacket pockets. After trying to get the tickets without his mother noticing, Jam fails. Jam is forced to wear more “sensible” wear to school.
To his friends’ dismay, Jam has left the tickets at home, as he was forced to wear his mother’s preferred fashions. In class, Beth (Melanie Lynskey) is left frustrated after she tries (albeit rather clumsily) to chat up Jam. She is interrupted at the crucial moment, by the intercom as Jam is called to see his still irate mother. The chain-smoking, Mrs Bruce has come to the school to transfer him to a religious school, and she’s mad at him after finding the KISS tickets. She then burns the tickets in front of Jam as she lights up a cigarette. His friends watch this bollocking and are devastated as Jam and his mother leave the school.
After a few escapades, Hawk, Lex, and Trip are happy again. This is after Trip wins a radio competition to win four tickets and backstage passes for the Detroit KISS concert. The boys then escape school for the day, after they outrun Elvis, the school janitor. Borrowing a car from Lex’s mother they aim to rescue Jam from the boarding school. They disguise themselves as pizza delivery men and lace a pizza with Magic Mushrooms for the headmaster.
After rescuing Jam and leaving this priest stoned, the four teenage boys head to Detroit. En route, they have a road rage incident with a car containing two disco guys, Kenny and Bobby and their girlfriends. One of the disco guy’s girlfriends Christine (Natasha Lyonne) leaves appalled by her boyfriend’s behaviour, but our four heroes win the day.
Later the dudes pick Christine up and then arrive at the radio station in Detroit. They learn Trip omitted to give his details to the DJ, and they so have no tickets as they were given to the next caller. Then they find out that Lex’s car has vanished, along with Christine. The boys then separate from each other to continue this quest to get tickets for the big night and to see KISS live…
Although you could class this movie as very much of its time, it’s a realistic and empathetic portrayal of teenage times and its associated lingo, obsessions, angst and friendships. This film’s 1970s ambience was seen in tune – literally and figuratively with 1978 – with appropriate musical albums, true events shown on the front page of newspapers and the boys rehearsing in a character’s bedroom with a Farrah Fawcett poster.
This film had some quirky directing styles but these easily fitted in with the ambience and tone of the movie. It always felt a real treat and gags were set up and followed through in a fun and inventive ways rather than using slapstick or cliches. The storyline felt natural and realistic for the whole film, and it never felt forced or disjointed. All the scenes were set up well and there was inventive use of the split screen, the always well-thought-out soundtrack and the inclusion of one of the teens seeing his friends’ floating heads giving him advice.
I loved the realistic tone, banter and teenage appropriate vocabulary between the teenagers in this film. This was all a refreshing change from those films where the screenwriter makes this age group sound like mini-adults. There seemed a real camaraderie between the on-screen protagonists where you believed in them as best friends and possibly (and hopefully) off-screen buddies too.
This coming-of-age movie also gave each of these likeable teens their own unique and fitting coming-of-age story. Their individual stories, attributes and character arcs were set up in their joint scenes. Then their character arc is seen to end individually after the boys split up to try and get tickets for the concert. It was clear these teens were on the cusp of adulthood, with this age reflected in their different plotlines. Each teen learned important and unique lessons about life, love and more, and happily, this included some romantic moments too.
Each of the teenage characters was played naturally and convincingly within some age-appropriate themed stories. There were also some sexual references and dialogue – some now inappropriate – where the boys talked about women. As Hawk, Furlong showed how desperate he was to get those tickets with a more adult themed story, but with comic and life changing moments. Jam also found an unexpected romantic moment with a then blast from his past to the delight of this incurable romantic.
Other supporting characters were well portrayed and credibly written. Jam’s mother seemed a potential contender for Catherine Zeta Jones’ all-women militant group protesting about Rock music in the 1980s set musical, Rock of Ages (2012). Melanie Lynskey as Beth – a character named after a KISS solo song – was also a well-written teenage girl role. I found myself empathising with her character, and Melanie Lynskey easily captured the awkwardness that I felt at a similar age trying to talk to the then object of my affection.
I don’t really want to see a potential film sequel reuniting these once-teenage co-stars. This I believe would come with the tagline of “The Boys are Back in Town”. This was the title of a Thin Lizzy song that’s found on the Detroit Rock City film soundtrack. This film like Rock of Ages included many new music tracks for me and each was relevant to the scenes they were heard in. It easily became another entry from Darlin Husband’s School of Rock, where he teaches me about his kind of music, through movie references in their soundtracks.
I guess now, I should seal it with a kiss if I can make him watch Gene Simmons in my kind of movie. So the next film we could watch with this singer, producer and sometimes actor could be Expecting Mary (2011). It stars Sue Ellen Ewing herself aka Linda Gray in a case of travelling to Dallas (1978-91) from Detroit Rock City… but it’s not my kind of film so it’s more likely we will rewatch Gene Simmons in his Runaway hit.
Weeper Rating: 😦😦 😦😦 😦 😦 😦 /10
Handsqueeze Rating: 🙂 🙂🙂 🙂 🙂10
Hulk Rating: /10
The Fake Teenager Festivus, 2022 No 23
This review was added to Taking Up Room‘s Fake Teenager Festivus. Other reviews on this blog include Giuseppe Andrews in David and Lisa and in Beverly Hills 90210. Lin Shaye in Frasier. Melanie Lynskey in Don’t Look Up. Natasha Lyonne in The Simpsons and Heartburn. Shannon Tweed in Frasier, Murder She Wrote, The Dukes of Hazzard and Fantasy Island.