"Detroit Rock City"
Darth Maul, Austin Powers, Tarzan, John Travolta, Julia Roberts, Cartman, James West, and killer sharks... What else would summer 1999 require? KISS. That's what we need. With all the teenager movies stinking up the multiplexes recently, the only relief is a film featuring the Knights In Satan's Service. Recalling "Dazed And Confused" and channeling "Rock N' Roll High School", "Detroit Rock City" is a heaping portion of good fun. Filled to the brim with energy and acted by a cast of clever actors who probably can't even shave yet, this new music-packed comedy might just be what the doctor (Dr. Love, that is) ordered.
KISS fans might not be too happy to hear that the band isn't in the film for more than 5 minutes. Director Adam Rifkin ("The Chase" and the pathetically forced "Dark Backward") and writer Carl V. Dupre have made a film not about KISS, but about four teenagers from 1978 Cleveland who drive to Detroit to see the band in concert. Everything from religiously fanatic mothers (The great Lin Shaye), to money-stealing bullies, and even some Disco lowlifes try to stop our heroes as they trek to see the world's greatest band. Once in Detroit, the friends split up to find opportunities to scam their way into the show. It is also in Detroit where each teen learns a very important lesson about life, and just how much KISS rocks.
Leading the group is Edward Furlong. Last seen in John Waters's "Pecker", Furlong has opened up greatly in the past couple of films. In "Detroit", Furlong gives his best performance to date. I've never seen him so loose on-screen before. Working with James DeBello, Giuseppe Andrews, and probably the most expressive teenage actor working today, Sam Huntington, they each deliver just the right amount of teenage apathy, yet make each one of their characters endearing to the audience. It's enormous fun to watch them on-screen together. You don't come around such a young cast that works so well together too often. Other players include the eternal vamp Shannon Tweed, Natasha Lyonne("Slums Of Beverly Hills") in yet another role that cannot seem to tap into her talents as much as I would like to see, and even a girl fittingly named Beth played by the wonderful Melanie Lynskey("Heavenly Creatures"),
It's quite obvious from the brilliant opening credits that Director Rifkin is out to have some fun. He brings back the 1970's with wonderful widescreen lensing, a dab of split-screen, and a soundtrack crammed with classic rock hits. One after another, the music fills each scene with such vibrant energy. After getting so used to the pre-packaged soundtracks that frequently don't have anything to do with the movies that feature them, it's refreshing to see film and sound live in holy matrimony for once.
The camera swings and moves with alarming speed. The colors pop and squeak. The era is evoked gently and without(much) sarcasm. "Detroit Rock City" is one of the few films that seems to be the product of genuine love for the era and the music. It's a bright film with an enormous amount of good will. Whatever Rifkin has forced upon us before has now been forgotten.
If I had to make once complaint about "Detroit", it's the typical use of drama to justify the movie. You've seen it time and again, the film you love crashing to a halt so the lead character can make some death-to-the-ears speech about freedom, love, or any other mundane belief. It never ceases to stop any film, and it brings the kinetic "Detroit" to it's knees for about 5 minutes. The picture is bright enough to not have to include any dramatic weight whatsoever. It's seems like a screenplay conceit, and probably is. Yet another film that's too self-conscious to really kick back and fire on all cylinders.
New Line cut a great trailer for this film. The "Mad" magazine-style poster was also a genius choice. "Detroit Rock City" is silly and sometimes childish, but it never stoops to the constipated laughs of "American Pie" or the plain ugliness of other similar "boy" intensive teenage comedies. "Detroit" is often sharp, always silly, slightly tasteless, but a seriously rocking late summer film that makes up for the usual garbage that litters August. You wanted the best, you got the best.--------- 9/10