The JOE-DOWN Reviews ‘Detroit Rock City’

Welcome to the JOE-DOWN, a back-and-forth movie review blog by two snarky newspapermen named Joe from Minnesota, Joe Froemming and Joe Brown. We will take turns selecting a movie — any movie we want — and review it here. For this installment, Brown picked “Detroit Rock City.”

The info:

The Movie: “Detroit Rock City”

Starring: Edward Furlong, Giuseppe Andrews, James DeBello

Director: Adam Rifkin

Plot Summary: (From IMDB) In 1978, four rebellious teenagers try to scam their way into a KISS concert.

Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 48 percent

Our take:

Brown: If there’s one thing that brings tension into the friendship Froemming and I have, it’s KISS. 

While acknowledging that they’re not great musicians, are total sellouts and are dorks in makeup, I really like KISS. They make solid, catchy rock songs and I wish I could have seen one of their stage shows in the ‘70s. 

And hey, I spent $30 on Amazon to get a VHS copy of “KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park” so we could review it. You have my permission to think I’m cool.

Plus, they wrote the song that one day united the whole world, if we’re to believe the end credits of “Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey.”

And it’s actually Bill and Ted that brought us to “Detroit Rock City.” See, I wanted to pick “Bill and Ted Face the Music,” which came out this past weekend. However, the theater in Willmar isn’t opening again until this coming weekend AND in order to stream it, we were looking at spending $25. We’re snarky assholes here at the JOE-DOWN, but not RICH, snarky assholes. Disregard that I spent more to get a VHS copy of “KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park.” 

So before we rock & roll all night and … have a wonderful time, give me your first thoughts on “Detroit Rock City,” Froemming.

Froemming: Well, I remember seeing this movie in high school in the theater, where me and my buddies seemed suspiciously a lot like these jokers, only we didn’t like KISS, so swap them out for say Black Sabbath, and there really was not much difference.

Yeah, I was what they call a “burnout” in high school. 

And frankly, I only recalled a few things from this movie. I remember thinking it was OK, but wasn’t floored by it.

Cut to 20 years later, and now I am talking about this movie with a friend who enjoys KISS. And, as much as I have changed in two decades, one thing stayed the same: I do not like the band KISS. They have two songs I like: “Beth” and “God Gave Rock and Roll To You Pt. 2.” And, of course, I would be foolish to deny this beast of a song:

Brown, as I apply Peter Criss makeup to my face to piss you off, why don’t you kick this off?

Brown: That doesn’t piss me off. It concerns me. You should have more respect for yourself than to dress like the Cat Man. 

Froemming: Cat Man is the only talented member of the band.

Brown: Anyways, this movie begins with a middle-aged woman — who we find out is the mom of Jam, one of our burnout teenagers — looking to unwind with a Carpenters vinyl. 

However, when the needle hits, she’s blasted with the dulcet tones of KISS’ “I Stole Your Love.” She… is not enjoying herself.

Frankly, this is how I imagine my mom grew up as a big KISS fan growing up in middle-of-nowhere Kansas. My mom will forever be cooler than me for once owning a “Disco Sucks” shirt.

Froemming: Can she review the movie with me? Now that you mention it, she is cooler that you are.

Brown: She thinks I’m cool. Therefore, I’m cool by proxy.

Froemming: OK, Milhouse.

So Mrs. Bruce storms to her son’s buddy’s place, where we see them playing KISS covers while stoned out of their minds with porno mags all around.

I am embarrassed to say this, but this scene of the buddies nearly being caught by a parent had happened to me many times. Man, I was such a loser in high school.

*thinks about life* Yeah, I still am a loser, but at least I’m not in a KISS cover band called Mystery. If I were, I’d probably ask Brown to put me out of my misery. 

Now we meet our four future MAGA supporters: 

  • There is John Connor, who will lead the resistance against the machines ruled by Skynet. He just has to get over his stage fright to do that.
  • Then there is Trip, who Brown and I agreed is the poor man’s Jay from those Kevin Smith movies. His mom gave birth to him while high on mushrooms, which might explain why he is the way he is. You know, gross
  • We meet Lex. He is there.
  • Then we meet Jam, our drummer and voice of reason (?) in this tale of four burnouts on their journey to Detroit to see a bunch of clowns sing about their love guns. 

Brown: When we see the guys practicing for their cover band (and practicing badly. The Sex Pistols were more accomplished musicians than these four), were you as alarmed as I was with how much weed and empty beer cans were in that basement? They are binging at a depressed 40-year-old level and they’re only in high school. 

Froemming: I said at the start, these characters reminded me of me and my loser pals. So no, that was pretty on-point for burnouts in a basement. 

Brown: You and I had much different upbringings. 

Anyways, the party gets broken up by Jam’s mom, who may as well have steam rising out of her ears. See, she’s pretty much every uptight religious parent in media ever. It’s to the point that Jam hides his “satanic” KISS records in the sleeves of Carpenters albums. But she’s also oblivious to the pot and cheap beer that her son must have reeked of, not to mention Jam (real name Jeremiah) has a KISS curtain over his window that his mom somehow never noticed? 

Whatever, this movie is “That ‘70s Show: The Motion Picture.”

Froemming: This movie feels like a very long Twisted Sister video.

Brown: I’d love it if Marmalard was in this movie. 

Froemming: Mrs. Bruce drags her son home, where he passes out in a fog of weed resin and beer, only to wake up and find his mom has bought him some new clothes to wear to school from K-Mart, which the end result he looks like Kelso from “That 70s Show.” I would say this movie tried to rip off that show, but there is only a year difference between the two debuting. I guess stoned teenagers were all the rage in the late 1990s.

But Jam has a problem: Their tickets are in his jean jacket, which his mom took to wash.

Brown: We should have probably mentioned the guys have tickets to see KISS in Detroit (they live in Cleveland, a town whose claim to fame is NOT being Detroit).

Froemming: Why would you have the guy with the strict religious mom hold the (REDACTED) tickets? Also, I know tickets were cheap in the 70s, but how did these four dingdongs afford them? They just sit around getting high listening to KISS.

Brown: That’s a good question considering how inept they are at making money later.

The guys go about their school day, complete with a girl named Beth having a massive crush on Jam. Because yep, the drummer for a KISS cover band is being lusted after by a woman named Beth. If you’re gonna be that much on the nose, why not just name the characters Paul, Gene, Peter and Ace? 

The quartet’s nightmare comes to fruition when Jam’s mom comes across the tickets and burns them in front of Jam’s face while telling Jam he’s being sent to boarding school.

My question: I know it’s the late ‘70s, but what school is gonna let a mom light tickets on fire inside of a building? That’s terribly irresponsible.

Froemming: It’s Cleavland, Brown. They probably still allow that sort of thing.

Our idiots are crushed, and that is not all. Because they are out without hall passes, they are being chased by Lafours — wait, no, a guy named Elvis. This movie is straight-up ripping off the Viewaskeverse here. They proceed to hide in the women’s bathroom, where they listen to a girl poop.

Great (REDACTED) choice this week, Brown.

Brown: Lay off, man. I had to watch Homer Simpson apes kiss last week. That was just as disturbing.

Our boys catch a break when, while in shop class (?), they catch a radio signal out of Detroit that is having a KISS tickets giveaway to the 160th caller that can list off the real names of the KISS members. 

So, in a moment like this, they send Trip? The (REDACTED) dumbest of all of them, which probably means he’s the dumbest kid in the school? 

But somehow, it seems to work out as Trip celebrates through the halls after being the 160th caller! KISS is back on, but Hawk wants the crappy cover band together to watch KISS, so they hatch a scheme to break Jam out of the boarding school his mom just sent him to a couple counties over.

Froemming: Let’s also mention this movie uses EVERY rock song from the late ’70s in it. It was worse than “Suicide Squad” in that regard. And the songs had to seem to relate to the scenes, so of course we get “Jailbreak” by Thin Lizzy here. 

I feel the filmmaker was as high as these kids making the movie.

Brown: I feel like the filmmaker just left KQRS out of Minneapolis on while filming. At least he had the decency to edit out anything with Tom Barnard.

So in order to help out their pal, what’s a stoned ‘70s kid to do? About what you’d expect: put psychedelic mushrooms on a pizza and feed it to the head of the school.

… This movie doesn’t do a lot of original things.

Froemming: This is basically “Mallrats,” minus the humor and entertainment qualities. 

The priest begins tripping balls, which allows them to get Jam out of the place and they hit the road. This is the most excited anyone in history has ever been about going to Detroit. 

On the way, they have a carload of disco fans riding their ass on the highway. Frankly, I’d rather listen to whatever the hell they are jamming out to than “Destroyer.” 

Then Trip decides to throw some pizza out the passenger side window and it smashes into the windshield of the disco kids, nearly killing them in the process.

Trip, John Connor, Jam and the other guy all deserve an ass kicking for that. 

Brown: Here’s a visualization on how our “heroes” react during this scene. 

Alas, these disco ducks get our stoner station wagon to pull over. But it goes poorly for these Tony Monero wannabes as Hawk (checks notes) kicks one of them in the dick. 

Froemming: Not cool, John Connor.

Brown: When all of disco kids are incapacitated, Hawk then commits a lot of property damage by putting a rock on the accelerator, putting their Pontiac Firebird into a ditch.

It’s played off as a badass moment, complete with Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man” playing in the background. 

… It’s Edward Furlong. You should have played this over the scene. 

Froemming: Who do you think cried more, the guys getting kicked in the dick or Gene Simmons singing “A World Without Heroes?”

With these chuckleheads tied up and faces painted, our heroes take off again where they see one of the disco queens, Christine, wandering up the road by herself after she was disgusted by her disco buddies.

Brown: Because of (REDACTED) course a KISS-centric movie will have a woman named Christine in it…

Froemming: They decide to give her a ride because she might sleep with them. So they pick her up and basically give her shit for liking music different from them. I mean, you guys are listening to KISS, even ABBA is better than KISS. 

Brown: Christine, who is played by Natasha Lyonne of “American Pie” fame, even jokes that “Disco is so big, I bet KISS makes a disco song.”

Froemming: Yeah, glad to see KISS can laugh at themselves a bit with that. Because their disco song is one of the worst (REDACTED) things I have ever heard.

Frankly, a lot of rock bands made disco songs. It was an ugly time in music history.

Our heroes make it to Detroit, where again, the only people ever to be excited to be in Detroit. The venue is one giant party, is packed with people, yet they are able to find a parking space within a minute. As someone who has gone to a lot of concerts in my life, this is the most unbelievable thing in the whole movie.

Brown: It’s two hours before the show, but you are right.

Froemming: Even four hours before a show, the parking is usually taken up in most metros.

Brown: And now you see why I don’t really enjoy going to concerts: Other people.

After a victorious ride to Detroit, the boys head into the radio station to claim their holy grail.

Only, you know how I mentioned it was a bad idea to send the dumbest of them all to make the call to win the tickets? Yeah… Trip hung up the phone before giving the DJ any info, so they gave the tickets to the next caller.

Froemming: Why did the DJ still have the audio of that call? Most radio stations don’t record any of their broadcasts, except for the BBC. Which is not in America. And as much as it feels Detroit isn’t in America, it technically is and therefore does not do things like the British. 

Now our gang is in Detroit with barely any money and no tickets for the show. They decide to split up and try to get in on their own.

Brown: At this point, “Detroit Rock City” becomes the Beavis and Butt-Head video game from the ‘90s, where they have to find the missing pieces to their GWAR tickets.

A couple of them have ideas right away: Hawk will seek out a scalper; Trip will go assault kids with tickets because he’s a (REDACTED) monster. Jam, he wanders around aimlessly and Lex… Lex does nothing because you could literally remove his character and nothing would change in “Detroit Rock City.”

Short on cash, Hawk gets talked into going to a strip club that is having a $100 competition for guys to bare all for the female crowd. 

Froemming: I have been to a strip club where men take it off. There are almost never women in the audience at these things.

Brown:  His stage fright is there, but for the privilege of seeing the guys who later wrote “Lick It Up,” Hawk will do it!

Plus, this teenager gets some liquid courage courtesy of Gene Simmons’ real-life wife, Shannon Tweed.

I think it was this point where I texted Froemming to ask if this movie was created so Gene would watch his wife get cucked by John Connor.

Froemming: I was more concerned for everyone in this club given who the MC of the show was.

John Connor also vomits into a beer pitcher, which made me feel like Andy:

Long story short: Connor sleeps with Tweed and she gives him money for a ticket. Which is prostitution. 

Let’s go to Trip, who is planning on beating up children for a ticket. 

His plan is really, really bad. He first threatens two kids with a Stretch Armstrong doll that he steals. He then goes into a gas station, where he sees some kid in KISS makeup playing a KISS pinball machine who will undoubtedly be buried in a KISS coffin one day. 

Brown: Hey man, if it’s good enough for Dimebag Darrell

Froemming: He threatens the child, who then calls upon his brother who looks suspiciously like Flash Gordon. This freak of nature is about to make hamburger out of Trip. And I was cheering this on, because Trip’s plan was to mug children. He is trash.

Brown: We’ve covered some real sons of bitches on the JOE-DOWN, and Trip is up there with the worst of them.

To avoid an ass-kicking, Trip has to give this child and his roided-up brother $200. Naturally, he doesn’t have the money or else we wouldn’t be in this situation. So there’s only one option: armed robbery!

… Seems like an overreaction. How about you just take the beating you rightfully deserve for trying to assault a grade-schooler. Your doctor will probably give you pain meds, which Trip would 100 percent be for.

Only… a dude with a shotgun beats Trip to the punch and holds up the convenience store. Since Trip’s sense of fear is apparently blocked due to malted hops and bong residue, Trip eventually subdues the robber and gets kissed by the cashier. He gets some money out of it. 

Let’s get to the other two, Froemming.

Froemming: Lex sneaks backstage, which is honestly not the worst plan of all of them. He gets there but ends up being chased by security and in the process, destroys some of Peter Criss’ drums.

After getting chased out, he is then threatened by some dogs, but wins them over because he throws a frisbee for them and then sees their stolen car is in the possession of Professor Professorson and Bobby Bacala

Brown: I don’t know how I feel about a man who went from being a rapey car mechanic in a chop shop to the man teaching “Nicolas Cage: Good or Bad” at Greendale Community College. Dean Pelton doesn’t have the most sound hiring record.

Remember your ABCs, Froemming: Always Be Cageing

Froemming: Lex rescues Christine with the dogs, putting the fear into these goons. Again, like Brown said, Lex could have been cut from this movie and nothing would have changed.

Now we get to Jam, who sees his mom protesting the concert with the Mothers Against Canada! And when she sees him, she brings Jam into the church with a perverted priest, which is probably the most realistic thing about this movie.

Forced to sit in confession, the priest wants Jam to have more saucy stories to tell him, which happens when Beth goes in to say goodbye to her crush.

They bang in the confession booth. Seems like something Frank Reynolds would approve of.

Brown: For someone who just lost his virginity in a confessional booth, Jam seems like he did alright for himself in the same movie where Hawk is a premature ejaculator. I’m glad this movie had the restraint to not play “Love Gun” during this scene. Because, you see, Froemming, Paul tanley’s dick is the gun!

Seriously, this scene is the most accurate explanation of KISS in history.

Froemming: Jam, high on just getting laid for the first time, tells his mother off in front of her protest group. And he goes full-on asshole, which I get to an extent, but he comes off looking pretty bad in my eyes. 

Brown: He’s justified, but a total asshole.

Froemming: Kinda justified, I mean he is still a kid and all. Now he is an asshole kid, and nobody likes that kid. Especially if that kid’s favorite band is (REDACTED) KISS.

The four return to where they agreed to meet up, filled with life experiences, but no closer to where they were before to getting into the show.

Then they hatch a scheme. A stupid, stupid scheme. A scheme that would never work in a million years.

They will beat the shit out of one another and claim they were mugged. The problem: Concert venues don’t give a shit if someone stole your tickets and kicked your ass in the process. If anything, they will probably think you had it coming.

Brown: At this point, I’m shocked Ticketmaster or StubHub don’t have “Got your ass kicked” insurance to add on to the convenience fees.

Because of plot convenience, the assault strategy works flawlessly when Trip points out that the kid from before and his gigantic brother stole his wallet and money. Honestly, I thought that was a decent, albeit awful morally, twist.

So congrats guys, you duped a child so you could see KISS. It’s not like KISS was still touring as of the 2010s. You could have seen them another time!

Froemming: Yeah, but with the original lineup? A few years after this and the late 90s before Ace and Peter were kicked out again was their only window of opportunity! 

Brown: Seeing replacements under makeup is still better than seeing Gene Simmons without makeup.

So KISS takes the stage and creeps me the hell out when there’s a camera angle inside Gene’s mouth, complete with the freakishly long tongue. As they play the titular “Detroit Rock City,” you get all the KISS standards, with Gene spitting blood and shooting fireballs, pyro going off everywhere and the drum kit rising into the air. Again, not a great band musically, but I appreciate a good show.

Froemming: It would be amazing if a KISS show had good music.

Brown: Froemming, were you like me and hoping that we’d get the typical ‘70s teen movie ending where text tells what happened to each character, like “Trip was drafted and died in Vietnam?”

Froemming: No, I knew these kind of people in high school. I know where they ended up: Going full MAGA later in life while being stuck in their hometown.

Brown: I was gonna say spreading Qanon and anti-vaxxer theories on Facebook.

Froemming, let’s hop in our mom’s station wagon and get to recommendations.

WOULD YOU RECOMMEND?

Brown: If you see it on cable TV on some sleepy afternoon, sure. Otherwise, pass.

Froemming: Hard pass.

Here is what’s coming up for the next Joe-Down:

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