IN A BASEMENT littered with comic books, KISS memorabilia, copies of Hustler and Playboy, and that inescapable Farrah Fawcett poster, four teenage boys thrash through a cover of "Rock and Roll All Night" that makes up in enthusiasm what it lacks in tunefulness. Meanwhile, three blocks away, a housewife sashays to the living room hi-fi, intent on listening to her favorite Carpenters record. Instead, a blast of "Love Gun" makes her spit out her Gallo red. She hightails it in the station wagon to confront her drum-playing son with his perfidy. "You know what KISS stands for?" she yelps. "Knights In Satan's Service!"
Detroit Rock City
directed by Adam Rifkin
opens August 13 at Uptown and others
The opening scene of Detroit Rock City lays out everything that occupies the next 90 minutes: adolescent rebellion, rock 'n' roll fantasy, and meticulous attention to period detail. This is Cleveland in 1978, and the four basement musicians—sensitive Jam (Sam Huntington), waste case Trip (James De Bello), introvert Lex (Giuseppe Andrews), and the group's brash leader Hawk (Edward Furlong)—are counting the minutes 'til tomorrow, when they'll journey to Detroit to see KISS for the first time. But Jam's god squad mom (the Carpenters fan) confiscates their tickets and drives her son straight to a Catholic boarding school. Jam's buddies must score another set of concert tickets, then bust him out of the headmaster's office to the strains of Thin Lizzy's "Jailbreak."
That's just the beginning: Before this scruffy quartet makes it over the threshold of Cobo Hall, they experience premature ejaculation, convenience-store robbery, deflowering, and car theft. To describe the details of the film's (minimal) plot would ruin it, but two climactic scenes deserve mention; oddly enough, both of them involve a teenage boy holding a group of older women rapt. First, there's Furlong peeling off his clothes in a particularly inept and hilarious striptease at a Chippendale's-style nightclub called It's Raining Men. Later, Huntington delivers a rousing speech to a crowd of MATMOK (Mothers Against the Music of KISS) members, culminating in one of the most triumphant kiss-off lines (pardon the pun) in teen-movie history.
Watching Detroit Rock City, it's easy to forget how different America was 20 years ago. The film could just as easily be set in 1999 with a Limp Bizkit concert being the Holy Grail—except when close-ups of the concert tickets reveal that they cost $5.50 each. Director Adam Rifkin—whose previous efforts include the indie oddity The Dark Backward and the script for Small Soldiers—has created another in the long line of timeless coming-of-age-in-a-day films exemplified by American Graffiti and Dazed and Confused.
Music is a big part of these films; the final scene of Dazed and Confused, for example, shows a car full of kids driving off to an Aerosmith concert. For Detroit Rock City, this is doubly true. The teenage orthodoxy that the bands you listen to define who you are appears over and over again: It's the Village People vs. AC/DC in a fight to the death. The soundtrack, produced by Tom Zutaut (the A&R guy who discovered Guns N' Roses), overflows with embarrassments like "The Pi�olada Song" and "Convoy" as well as classic tracks from Sweet, the Runaways, Cheap Trick, Black Sabbath, and, of course, KISS.
It's not just liberatingly mindless guitar-rock that gives Detroit Rock City its sense of sheer exhilaration; it's also the way the film is shot. The camera zooms giddily around the basement practice space; it lingers lovingly on the elusive tickets, and swoops down from vertiginous heights over streets and highways. Sometimes it lurks at odd angles, then freezes, capturing the exaggerated drama that surrounds all things teenage—whether it's getting chased by the hall monitor or being forced to wear a K-Mart ensemble to school. Yet adolescence is also a time of unlimited possibility, and Detroit Rock City brings this feeling back with an almost visceral rush. You can't help but get caught up in it—even if you're a Village People fan.