Hello all! I hope you enjoyed staying at home and watching Conan the Barbarian last weekend, instead of fighting the crowds and dropping God knows how much money to see Prince of Persia or, God forbid, Sex and the Shitty Poo…er, City 2, I think it was. That Arnold sure knows how to bite a vulture, doesn’t he?
Well, the big winner this weekend was (again) Shrek Forever After. If you want a sufficient alternative for that movie, check out any Pixar flick (except Cars). Of the weekend’s newer fare, the winner was (unsurprisingly) Get Him to the Greek.
Personally, I’m not sure what to make of this one. I keep seeing the trailer, and I’m just not sold on it at all. It’s a shame, really. I like Jonah Hill a lot—he’s just a naturally funny guy. Russell Brand, however, I’m not so sure. When people walked out of the extremely forgettable Forgetting Sarah Marshall stating that he stole the show, I merely winced in alienation. Now, not only does he have his own vehicle, but he’s even playing the same character that he played in that movie. And P. Diddy (or whatever the worthless stupid arrogant fuckhead is obnoxiously requesting that people call him these days) is in it. Even if everything else in this movie looked like gold, that’s three strikes against it in my book. This one’s just not for me.
But let’s say that you really want to watch a movie about people fighting the clock to get to a rock concert and running into several whacky shenanigans along the way. You could wade through a sea of cineplex douchery to catch a showing of Get Him to the Greek in exchange for some money that you shan’t be getting back. Or…you could stay in, get some Chinese take-out, and watch Detroit Rock City.
Now, I’ll admit to a certain bias in my love of this 1999 comedy; that bias being that I am a longtime massive, unapologetic fan of the great novelty rock’n’roll band, KISS. (My dog’s name is Frehely; how’s that for commitment?)
If you’ve never seen the movie and haven’t put the pieces together yet, Detroit Rock City (titled after one of KISS’s most famous songs) is about a group of youths in 1977 and their struggles to make it to a KISS concert at Cobo Hall in Detroit, Michigan. It’s pretty fucking epic.
As the film opens we are introduced to our four leads—Hawk (Edward Furlong), Jam (Sam Huntington), Trip (James DeBello), and Lex (Giuseppe Andrews)—and their band, Mystery (and be sure to make a mental image of that ‘S’ in “Mystery” the same shape as your traditional KISS ‘S’). After finishing up a rendition of “Rock and Roll All Nite” in Hawk’s basement, we learn that the young lads are pretty excited—they’ve got tickets to see KISS at Cobo Hall in Detroit tomorrow!
And there is much rejoicing, but their party is soon broken up by Jam’s mom, who has just discovered—much to her chagrin—a KISS album stashed away in one of her Carpenters album covers. A chain-smoking religious woman, she abhors KISS with their “demon” makeup, insisting that KISS is an acronym for Knights In Satan’s Service,
Now, let me digress for a second. I’ve never really understood where this whole KISS-Satan connection comes from. For one thing, their lyrics never made mention of the devil or Satan worship or anything of that nature. Ok, so Gene Simmons may have dubbed himself the “God of Thunder,” but that’s hardly anything to sneeze at, and most of their lyrics were just a lot of cheesy double entendres, anyway.
And while Simmons’ stage character and makeup might have been the “Demon,” Paul Stanley was the “Star Child,” Ace Frehely was the “Spaceman,” and Peter Criss was the “Cat-Man”—Cat-Man, for God’s sake! I think they were just trying to cover all their bases!
And as far as Knights In Satan’s Service thing goes, when I was a teenager taking guitar lessons (because we all did), my teacher told me that the Knights thing was a load of crap and that much speculation seemed to suggest that it was a credo for their style of music: Keep It Simple, Stupid.
Anyway—moving on! The opening credits get revved up and we are treated to a wonderful montage of 70’s era KISS hysteria and related paraphernalia set to “Love Gun.” It’s quite a thrill.
And then we’re brought back to our heroes on the morning of the concert—and they have a whole day of school to get through first. Things, of course, do not prove as easy as they all hope.
When Jam’s mom finds the KISS tickets, she marches to school, pulls him out of class (via the school-wide intercom, no less), burns all four tickets, lighting her cigarette in the flames, and sends Jam off to boarding school.
All hope is seemingly lost until Trip manages to use one of the school’s pay phones to call into a Detroit radio contest and win four replacement tickets to the concert. With their zeal renewed, Hawk, Lex, and Trip decide to cut their school day a bit short, while in close pursuit by the school’s Elvis-esque security guard (who earlier, has a hilarious line while talking to a group of cheerleaders at lunch–”I notice the trays match your outfits–did you plan that?”) Upon breaking free, they pile in a car to go bust Jam out of boarding school and make it to Detroit in time for the concert.
Of course it’s not as easy as just that…nothing ever is. There’s more and more trouble for our heroes along the way, including run-ins with disco-loving alpha males, car thieves, armed robbers, KISS protest rallies, vicious rottweilers, angry roadies, male strippers (including one named Sir Loin), and a little kid in Ace Frehely makeup with a burly older brother named Chongo.
So, you see, it’s got a similar flavor to this weekend’s Get Him to the Greek, but director Adam Rifkin brings a veiled Apatow-esque intelligence to the film, and he’s always aware of the limited brain capacity of his characters—and he knows the difference between endearing and obnoxious. And because of this, it’s more than just an exercise in whacky excess. The laughs come from the characters and we’re just as free (perhaps more free) to laugh at them as we are with them.
This characteristic is illustrated all the more fittingly once our heroes are each out on their own, fending for themselves in pursuit KISS tickets. Hawk attempts to win a Chippendale contest with a cash prize so that he can buy tickets off a scalper; Lex tries to sneak in among the roadies; Trip—arguably the most charmingly moronic member of the group—tries to rob seemingly defenseless children; and Jam doesn’t make it too far at all before running into both his mother and the girl from school whom he has a crush on.
And, by the way, Jam’s mom is played by the always fantastic Lin Shaye (little sister of New Line Cinema founder Bob Shaye). You may remember her as Magda in There’s Something About Mary, or the creepy landlady in Kingpin, or perhaps the older stewardess who dies of a snake bite in Snakes on a Plane. Anyway, she’s always terrific, and she delivers nothing less than the best here.
The lead cast is pretty great, too, and I wish we saw more of them these days. Edward Furlong we all obviously know as John Connor from Terminator 2, but he never really had much else to speak of (aside from American History X, I suppose). Sam Huntington has been both the little native boy in Jungle 2 Jungle and Jimmy Olsen in Superman Returns, but was most recently seen in the underrated Fanboys, which is kind of a Star Wars version of Detroit Rock City.
James De Bello doesn’t have much else of note to his credit, and Giuseppe Andrews—formerly Randy Quaid’s sickly child in Independence Day—hasn’t done much either. Both actors were in Eli Roth’s Cabin Fever. So there’s that. Anyway, the cast is great and I thought that was worth mentioning.
As the night progresses, Jam, Hawk, Lex, and Trip, through their individual misadventures, each grow up a little and build a bit more character than perhaps they had before. But forget all that. Detroit Rock City is mainly about just one simple thing: FUN. And as such, it’s a perfect summer movie, and a perfect antidote to the ho-hum of Get Him to the Greek.
And it also features one of the single best shots in the history of comedy on film–a shot of the audience at the concert from inside Gene Simmons’s mouth looking out, as his iconically lengthy tongue wags about the lower portion of the frame. If you weren’t sold before, then surely you are now?
Detroit Rock City is one of my favorite comedies of the last fifteen years. It’s a real blast from start to finish—a really funny movie with really fun characters and a really great energy, fueled quite strongly by a great cast giving it their all, and an absolutely incredible soundtrack chock full of classic rock hits, and—of course—plenty of KISS.
For an added bonus, examine the film’s poster (or DVD box art) after watching the movie—I don’t believe there’s a single character from the whole movie that can’t isn’t depicted in the mob chasing our four leads. Even the acne-faced A/V Club kid who cries “I’m responsible for that!” when his speakers are tossed down a stairwell is there! I don’t know who designed and illustrated that artwork, but they deserve a pat on the back!
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