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[whitespace] James DeBello
Kiss Off: Trip (James DeBello) scores tickets for a Detroit Kiss concert--which kicks off a '70s flashback that shouldn't have been in 'Detroit Rock City.'

A contrived tribute to '70s rockers Kiss goes for the gross every time

By Michelle Goldberg

TRY TO IMAGINE THE VILEST, most THC-damaged grunting Neanderthals that you went to high school with. Imagine that Kiss, those '70s icons of dumb phallic bravado and sublimated transvestitism, offered the goons a few million dollars to make a feature film about the unrivaled glories of Kiss themselves. Picture them working in the post-There's Something About Mary golden age of scatology, where they would be free to pack their film with all the piss, vomit and other bodily excretions that substitute for comedy in the '90s.

Now double all these unfortunate features and you'll approach the utter unfunny badness of Detroit Rock City, a film about four losers and the trials they face in their quest to see Kiss in concert, co-produced by Kiss's Gene Simmons. It's all downhill from the opening credits--a nearly self-parodic montage of irrelevant images from the '70s--as we launch into a picaresque with highlights that include the gratuitous beating of "guidos," the threatened gang-bang of a sassy young disco chick played by Natasha Lyonne, and a cheerleader who's humiliated on the toilet when our heroes demolish the stall around her.

The movie follows four friends, Hawk, Lex, Trip and Jam, whose quest begins after their Kiss tickets are destroyed by Jam's Christian fanatic mother (played by Farelly brothers regular Lin Shaye). She's a pinch-faced middle-American monster. Her curdled self-righteousness forms the film's locus of contempt, and watching her is excruciating, especially because her cowed, sensitive son is the only boy who's at all sympathetic. In fact, the film's one satisfying moment comes when he's sweetly devirginized by a classmate in the confession booth of a pervy priest.

Our heroes' other conquests are much more unpleasant. Worst of all is a scene where Hawk, essayed by an unattractively bloated Edward Furlong, is inexplicably seduced by a gorgeous middle-aged woman (played by a former Playboy Playmate), who actually pays him to have sex with her after watching him fill an entire pitcher with vomit and seeing him prematurely ejaculate in his Kiss boxers.

Detroit Rock City was directed by the same genius who penned the scripts for Mouse Hunt and Small Soldiers, and he fills the film with gratuitously kitschy camera effects--whooshing rapid zooms and pans (replete with sound effects) and pointless split screens. But that's only the beginning of Adam Rifkin's cinematic crimes. In fact, the worst thing about Detroit Rock City is the way he either wastes or degrades some of the best young actors working today. Furlong, who radiated impish genius in Pecker and chilling conformist menace in American History X, is here reduced to stuttering piggish vacancy. The sublime, spirited Lyonne at first seems like she'll put the boys in their places, but her character's spunk quickly fizzles and she herself disappears, only to turn up tied up while two drooling mechanics threaten to rape her. Kiss themselves appear in the film's final moments, a sluggish concert sequence in which no amount of makeup can hide the fact that they're less avatars of youthful rebellion than middle-aged businessmen making a cameo in their own commercial.

Detroit Rock City (R; 95 minutes), directed by Adam Rifkin, written by Carl V. Dupré, photographed by John R. Leonetti and starring Edward Furlong, Giuseppe Andrews, James DeBello and Sam Huntington, opens Friday at selected theaters valleywide.

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From the August 19-25, 1999 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 1999 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

For more information about the San Jose/Silicon Valley area, visit sanjose.com.

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