The rock group Kiss has been aggravating parents since the early 1970’s, when this hard rock quartet donned face paint and outlandish costumes while jamming onstage surrounded by pyrotechnics. Bassist Gene Simmons would further entertain by flicking out his long tongue, spit fire or even blood. True or not true, many people claimed their name was an acronym for Knights In Satan’s Service. Their songs, including “Rock and Roll All Night,” “Hotter than Hell,” and “God of Thunder,” certainly suggested that these guys were out to rock the boat of conventional stage theatrics and, of course, morality.
Now, nearly three decades after Kiss’s first stage appearance, the movie DETROIT ROCK CITY resurrects the sub-genre of rock-and-roll comedy and concerns itself with three loser high school students from Cleveland who break all the rules while trying to get to Detroit to see a Kiss concert in 1978. Very rebellious, containing negative Christian characters, only marginally amusing, and also very simply written and directed, this movie will probably only attract hardcore Kiss fans.
Hawk (Edward Furlong), Jam (Sam Huntington), Lex (Guiseppe Andrews), and Trip (James De Bello) are four Cleveland youths in a Kiss cover band called Mystery. Despite Jam’s mother who hates Kiss and forbids Jam to listen to them, the four youths have tickets to see the band in Detroit. Hawk is the smart, seemingly confident leader of the group, who rallies them together when Jam’s mother finds the tickets and burns them. In fact, Jam’s mom takes him away to a private Catholic detention school where he can be better monitored.
Undeterred, Trip breaks out of shop class, calls a radio station in Detroit and wins front row seats. Hawk encourages Lex to steal his mom’s car, so that they can go bust Jam out of school and go see Kiss.
Hawk laces a pizza with drug filled mushrooms, gives it to the headmaster/priest of the school and steals Jam away. On the road, the foursome tangle with a group of disco-loving travelers, including a wise-cracking young woman named Christine (Natasha Lyonne), but on arriving in Detroit, they find out that the radio station didn’t get Trip’s name, and so had to give the tickets away to the next caller.
With two hours to go, the boys split up either to find money or tickets in their determination to see their favorite band. Hawk ends up getting drunk, stripping and losing his virginity to an older woman. Jam gets caught again by his mother who hides him in a Catholic church. There, Jam loses his virginity in a confessional booth with his high school admirer. Lex gets chased by attack dogs and rescues Christine from some would-be rapists. Finally, Trip thwarts a convenience store robbery, gets attacked by thugs and has his wallet stolen. All these complications aside, the boys make one last ditch effort to see Kiss.
This movie tries to have the charm of AMERICAN GRAFFITI and the cleverness of DAZED AND CONFUSED. It fails on both accounts. While there exists a small pleasure in seeing dimwitted fellows pursue their goal, they go about it with complete abandonment to any rules involving fornication, alcohol use, drug use, theft, assault, and disobedience to parents. Jam’s mother, while obviously concerned for her son, is a chain-smoking, unfeeling woman more concerned about superficial piety than being a good parent. Her zealousness is portrayed very negatively. Likewise, the Catholic priests in the movie are portrayed either as ignorant or lechers. This anti-Christian bias completely overshadows the whole picture and ends up being the primary opposing force to the protagonists’ objectives.
Rock and roll comedies began innocently with the bikini beach movies, and have increasingly gotten more rebellious with the likes of A HARD DAY’S NIGHT and ROCK AND ROLL HIGH SCHOOL. DETROIT ROCK CITY bests FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH and even AMERICAN PIE at showing all aspects of youthful rebellion. It is not a movie for teenagers, and it will hold little nostalgic appeal for adults. Only the most ardent and hardened Kiss fans who themselves made a pilgrimage to see Kiss can appreciate this tough comedy. The members of Kiss gave this movie their blessing and even appear in it at the end. Hence, one can only conclude that they do indeed give honor to rebellion and lawlessness and give service to Satan after all.
Strong pagan worldview of rebellious, pot-smoking, alcohol drinking, decadent high school children who want to go to a Kiss concert with a stereotypical, obnoxious portrayal of an angry, hypocritical Christian mom & Catholic priests, one of whom enjoys hearing about sexual sin in confession; 67 obscenities, 8 profanities & lewd gestures; moderate violence including several beatings & threats of rape by thugs; sexual talk, teenage boy loses virginity in confessional booth implied, heavy kissing, stripping at strip club, & other teenage boy loses virginity by older woman implied; upper female nudity, upper male nudity, men in thongs & cleavage revealing clothes; alcohol use & drunkenness; smoking, marijuana use & boys lace pizza with drug mushrooms; and, stealing, rebellion & gross extended image of vomiting.