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The Baltimore Sun

Detroit Rock City


Friday August 13, 1999

     It would be a comfort of sorts to say that "Detroit Rock City" is a new low in the current spate of gross-out teen comedies, but even that meager satisfaction is denied us. Rather the depressing truth is that this aggressively stupid film is merely business as usual, a compendium of all the current obsessions and fixations that make so many of these films such unhappy experiences.
     The story of four hormonally challenged Cleveland teenagers who more or less worship KISS and would do anything to get to that rock group's 1978 concert in nearby Detroit's Cobo Hall, "Detroit Rock City" is chock-a-block with crude, humiliating sex and bodily function jokes. If "American Pie" is an example of how to do a raunchy coming-of-age story right, this contemptuous, mean-spirited piece of business--which finds humor in using someone's head to clean a pizza off a car windshield--shows how to do it wrong.
     The four guys are high school seniors who play in a KISS knock-off group called Mystery and call one another by their band nicknames: Hawk (Edward Furlong), Lex (Giuseppe Andrews), Trip (James DeBello) and Jam (Sam Huntington).
     As much as these guys idolize KISS, that's how much Jam's mother, Mrs. Bruce ("There's Something About Mary's" Lin Shaye), can't abide the group. Horribly caricatured as a devout Catholic who reads Erma Bombeck and listens to the Carpenters, Mrs. Bruce considers KISS (no kidding) "the devil's music" and says the letters stand for Knights in Satan's Service.
     Mrs. Bruce's objections are only one of the obstacles the guys have to face in their quest to get to Detroit. Tickets to the event appear and then disappear like mirages in the desert during the course of the film, part of which deals with the extreme lengths the gang will go to get inside the arena.
     In fact one of the most tiresome things about "Detroit Rock City" (produced by KISSer Gene Simmons and featuring a cameo by the band) is having to listen to an endless stream of pro-KISS propaganda that lauds this group as the most awesome band ever even though most serious rock people didn't pay any more attention to them than, well, the Carpenters.
     And that's not even the most tiresome part of Carl V. Dupre's unendingly banal script. In fact, it's hard to pinpoint its worst aspect: its trite dialogue, its opportunities for thuddingly dull physical humor, its penchant for brainless coincidences or its occasional embarrassing attempts at serious speeches. Let's call it a dead heat.
     First-time director Adam Rifkin (he previously wrote "Mouse Hunt" and "Small Soldiers") is energetic enough but nothing can make us care the slightest bit about these guys, accurately described by someone else in the film as "total morons" and not any more appealing or intelligent than the film's nominal villains.
     As if to prove the point, the quartet actually spends some time physically beating each other up. They've been such bone-headed irritants, both individually and as a group, it actually feels like poetic justice to see them flail away at one another. It's just too bad they couldn't have done it earlier and knocked themselves and this film into well-deserved states of complete unconsciousness.

Detroit Rock City, 1999. R, for strong language, drug use and sex-related content. A Takoma Entertainment/Base-12 Productions/Kissnation production, released by New Line Cinema. Director Adam Rifkin. Producers Gene Simmons, Barry Levine, Kathleen Haase. Executive producers Michael De Luca, Brian Witten. Screenplay Carl V. Dupre. Cinematographer John R. Leonetti. Editors Mark Goldblatt, Peter Schink. Costumes Rosanna Norton. Music J. Peter Robinson. Production design Steve Hardie. Art director Lucinda Zak. Set decorator Cal Loucks. Running time: 1 hour, 37 minutes. Edward Furlong as Hawk. Giuseppe Andrews as Lex. James DeBello as Trip. Sam Huntington as Jam.

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