Detroit Rock City (Blu-ray Review) - In stores April 7th

by Brian White

You wanted the best.  You got the best!  The hottest band in the world…KISS!!!  And the roar of the crowd goes absolutely banana nuts crazy.  How did that sound?  That was my best text recreation of the legendary lines employed at the beginning of KISS’ amazing Alive album, which forever changed the band members’ 4 lives and millions of others (aka the KISS Army) the past 40+ years.  And finally, after all these years (as assistant producer Tim Sullivan and director Adam Rifkin can attest to), the 1999 cult classic Detroit Rock City will be coming home to the Blu-ray format and diehard KISS fans everywhere will  be shouting it out loud in the privacy of their living rooms courtesy of Warner Bros. Home Entertainment/New Line Cinema.  Now I have to warn you.  Because of this film’s holy grail cult-like status, I don’t know if my below Blu-ray review and my songs of praise can ever truly do this long anticipated HD home media release complete justice, but rest assured that the KISS freak in me is going to treat this like the ultimate fan letter or testament to KISS much akin to how the recording of Alive V would ultimately go down (if it ever did).  So here goes nothing.  You wanted the best.  You got the best…err…you got me!

Before we get into what Detroit Rock City is all about, that being KISS of course, I wanted to cover all the formalities first.  The 1999 road trip, coming-of-age comedy was directed by Adam Rifkin off a script by Carl V. Dupré.  It’s title ultimately is one from a KISS song of the same name.  The famous horror film director Tim Sullivan kind of got his start with this one (cool story about this in the disc’s Special Features) as he served as an assistant producer on the project too.  Much like any great period piece should, the film paints a pretty accurate picture of 1978 as it utilizes both well-known music of the 70’s as well as American pop culture back then too.  So in essence, I guess you could bill Detroit Rock City as part road trip, part coming-of-age comedy and one hell of a crazy ride bringing back vivid 1970 memories to anyone viewing that is old enough to remember the times.  And if you haven’t seen this one yet, rest assured, every inch of the way this movie rocks and rolls its way through with a soundtrack to die for that ingeniously matches every beat, plot twist and turn and onscreen event that you’ll see unfold.  I have yet to ever see anything quite like it from a soundtrack perspective, but I digress happily.

Ultimately, Detroit Rock City tells the story of four teenage boys in a KISS cover band, MYSTERY, who will move any mountain in their way to see their id0ls in concert in Detroit, MI circa 1978.  Sounds simple enough, right?  Well, it is, but there’s one thing you have to understand.  KISS has the most loyal fanbase any business could ever ask for.  That’s why they are officially called the KISS Army.  And yes, I did use the word “business” when I described KISS.  In case you are ignorant or haven’t left the house in the past four decades, there’s no denying that KISS is an immortal money making machine with products that have ranged from KISS condoms to KISS branded coffins.  They may be known as the kings of the nighttime world, but in actuality they’re the kings of merchandising and licensing.  If the KISS Koffin didn’t impress you, try this one on for sheer size.  They even own an arena football team in Los Angeles.  For those of you think of them as a gimmick or a simple bubblegum band, the joke’s on you.  KISS is LARGER THAN LIFE.  They’ve been rocking hard for forty plus years around the globe showing no visible signs of ever slowing down so why should it ever surprise you of the lengths four diehard fans would go to in order to catch their favorite band ever in concert and in all places possible, Detroit, MI, where I guess you could say KISS shares a little “KISStory” with.

So picture this.  The year is 1978.  Bell-bottoms, Day-Glo, lava lamps and rock and roll, most notably KISS, define the generation. What’s a high-school rock band from Cleveland got on its mind?  Come on!  Cleveland!  Was this movie made for me?  Of course it was!  It was made as a loving testament to KISS fans everywhere, but it struck an accord with me considering I’m from the hard working, industrial town of Cleveland and all.  However, I digress again.  The name of the film is not Cleveland Rock City, but Detroit.  It’s only fitting too.  Some of the most KSStoric moments in the band’s rich and long history have taken place in Detroit, not to mention it also being the name of one of their most famous songs.  So in essence, it only makes sense so to speak that this movie’s about a memorable trek to see one of the biggest bands ever play in their most KISStoric house, Cobol Hall in Detroit.

Detroit Rock City, believe it or not, is not all about KISS.  Sure, it helps if you love the band, or even if your a fan of memorable 70s’ rock hits, but believe it or not the core nucleus of our story are these four teenage boys we follow throughout the narrative in this road trip comedy.  These four teenage boys I speak of comprise a KISS cover band named Mystery.  The band consists of the original John Connor, guitarist-lead vocalist Hawk (Edward Furlong), bassist Lex (Giuseppe Andrews), lead guitarist Trip (James DeBello) and drummer Jeremiah “Jam” Bruce (Sam Huntington).  I’m sure you recognized those names, but the great thing about Detroit Rock City is the list of household names and cameos go on and on with the likes of Lin Shaye (Insidious), Natasha Lyonne (Orange is the New Black), Emmanuelle Chriqui (Entourage), Melanie Lynskey (Togetherness), Joe Flaherty, Shannon Tweed, Ron Jeremy and not to mention the legendary band themselves, the four original members of KISS.

So I got off track there for a minute and I apologize.  I was saying at its core, Detroit Rock City is really a coming of age story for the four members of Mystery.  Sure they pay their respects to the kings of rock, KISS, but think of the band only as a catalyst to fuel the fire lit under our four teenagers who will not let anything deter them from their endgame.  Whether it’s KISS or passing a test such as the LSAT, we all have goals in our lives that we want to see accomplished and fulfilled so stay with me here even if your not a fan of KISS.  In fact, if you’re not a fan of KISS, replace their name with any one of your favorite bands and come on this journey with me.  However, being a lover of all things KISS will just make the pot of gold at the end of this rainbow that much sweeter.  I’m just saying.

To me, Detroit Rock City tonally reminds me of the look and feel of the influential film Dazed and Confused by Richard Linklater mixed with the Star Wars infused Fanboys.  Now stay with me here.  I know you’re probably asking yourself did I just read that he said Detroit Rock City reminds him of Fanboys.  Yuck!  I’m not saying 2009’s Fanboys is where it’s at, I’m just using that movie as a comparison for a more modern film that feels like Detroit Rock City where “fanboys” of something special in their lives will defy the odds to overcome all obstacles to achieve their endgame.  You still with me?  Just checking!

The ironic thing about Detroit Rock City is that it’s filmed in Ontario as opposed to where it’s set at in Cleveland and Detroit.  However, never once will you question what you see onscreen at all.  There may not be any rich, historic or iconic Cleveland or Detroit monuments on display throughout for all to see, but director Adam Rifkin, assistant producer Tim Sullivan and the rest of the crew do a bang up job with the authenticity, look and feel of the time period piece despite the physical location of where it all goes down.

So I feel like I keep getting off topic here, but I can’t help it.  I’m a super fan of Detroit Rock City because despite my affinity for KISS, which dates back to my toddler years and many punches taken in defense of my love for them, I honestly feel like Carl Dupré wrote a gem of a script here that hits every beat of the genre for a fun, romping good time on a journey and a series of firsts with these four teenagers.  My only regret is wishing I was actually older than four years old in 1978 so I could have fond memories like the onscreen characters do.  And yes I know, this is a fictional tale, but it’s KISS man!  LOL.

Detroit Rock City has a very memorable opening scene, one of which I always turn to for inspiration when writing in this particular genre.  It all starts out in Cleveland with the charismatic Lin Shaye, who actually has a pretty large part in this flick as Jeremiah’s mom, trying to relax by sipping a glass of wine and preparing to recline in her favorite chair under the enchantment of what I could only guess would be one of her favorite Carpenter albums.  Instead, another record drops, the needle readies itself in position and the first track of 1977’s Love Gun, “I Stole Your Love,” blasts from the speakers resulting in her spilling the glass of wine all over the place and stopping at nothing to pull the plug on what she refers to as the devil’s music.  After all, we all know KISS stands for “Knights in Satan’s Service,” right?  I’m just kidding.  It DOESN’T!

Meanwhile, the four teenage boys I talked about above are all jamming and singing horribly to KISS’ “Rock and Roll All Nite.”  Once complete with their practice, they all share a moment about how elated they are to have KISS concert tickets for the next night in Detroit at you guessed it, Cobo Hall.  Moments later, Jeremiah’s mom races up to the house where the boys are at and drags her son out with a pretty cool KISS LP transition to boot.  The next day she discovers the tickets, burns them at the school as the four teenagers horrifically look on and if that wasn’t bad enough, sends her son packing to a Catholic boarding school.

I really hope I have done my job and effectively whetted your appetite because this is only where the craziness begins (rest assured you haven’t seen anything yet) and I’m not spoiling anything for those who have yet to discover and view this cult classic.  The boys have yet to discover how they are going to see their idols, how they’ll rescue their friend from his imprisoned hell or even how they’ll get to Detroit.  Rest assured though, once they hit the road, the good times really roll (sorry for the pun).  Even after all these years, the laughs are still there for me.  Gotta love it, huh?  Hell yeah you do!  There’s fist fights, pizza tossing, girls, a male strip club, robberies, car chases, rescues, dogs, disco, Mothers Against The Music of Kiss or MATMOK, religious groups, inside jokes…aw hell…why am I even beating around the bush with y’all?  This one’s unpologetically about SEX, DRUGS and ROCK ‘N’ ROLL told from a teenage angst/rebellion point of view (you know…the best kind)!!!

Before I received word from Warner Bros. that I would be chosen to review this Blu-ray title I did a little research to reinvigorate my brain as it had been a couple years since I last revisited Detroit Rock City.  I came across this 1999 Amazon.com review from the movie’s DVD product page that pretty much sums up everything I’ve been saying up above and so much more.  I hope the writer of that product review doesn’t mind, but I want to post his words in their entirety here (as they don’t get much better than this) so you can kind of get a sense of everything I want to sell you on so just in case you haven’t seen this one yet, hopefully this pushes you over the edge in doing so or at least generates some Blu-ray sales for me (hint…hint…click that pre-order link below baby).

“Darth Maul, Austin Powers, John Travolta, and killer sharks… What else would summer 1999 require?  KISS.  That’s what we needed.  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 music-packed comedy is 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, but the DVD extra scenes will more than make up for it.  Director Adam Rifkin has 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, who 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.  You don’t come around such a young cast that works so well together too often.  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.  (Go buy the CD!)  One after another, the music fills each scene with such vibrant energy.  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.  Detroit Rock City is often sharp, always silly, slightly tasteless, but a seriously rocking late summer film that made up for the usual garbage that litters August.  You wanted the best, you got the best.  Don’t miss it on DVD!”

Hopefully the writer up above will update his product review once April 7th drops to modify that last sentence to say “Don’t miss it on DVD and Blu-ray!”  Either way, I think you get the point that we’re both trying to make.  Detroit Rock City is just not all about KISS, but rather it’s a film that defines a generation.  However, despite all the good words about it, sadly the film was ultimately a box office failure back in 1999.  I can’t figure out why, but it’s domestic gross didn’t even come anywhere close to recouping its estimated $34 million dollar budget.  Oh well, what did they know back then.  It’s 2015 and now’s your chance to discover a needle in a haystack you may have initially passed up on for all these years as despite my bias and inclination towards the subject matter here and the film itself, Warner Bros. outdid themselves with the presentation I’m about to discuss in robust detail down below.  I couldn’t be happier with this catalog product and here’s why.

CLICK HERE to read the rest of the review.

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