Detroit Rock City is a 1999 cult film about four teenagers in a Kiss cover band who try to see their idols in Detroit in 1978. Comparable to Rock 'n' Roll High School, Dazed and Confused, The Stöned Age, and I Wanna Hold Your Hand Detroit Rock City tells a coming of age story through a filter of 1970's music and culture in the United States. Originally titled The Kiss Movie, the movie ultimately took its title from the Kiss song of the same name. Although it bombed at the box office, grossing fewer than five million dollars domestically, it has since become a cult classic for Kiss fans, rock music fans and metalheads in general.
The movie opens in Cleveland, Ohio, in early 1978. Hawk, Lex, Trip, and Jam are four rebellious teenagers who emulate and tribute Kiss to a degree in their own garage band called "Mystery." Having discovered his secret cache of Kiss albums, Jam's ultra-conservative and religiously hysterical mother, Mrs. Bruce, races up to the home and drags Jam to the car, throwing Jam's Love Gun album into a trash can.
The three remaining boys discover the next morning that their KISS concert tickets are missing, figuring that Trip's jacket carrying the tickets got swapped with Jam's. Jam is not able to retrieve the tickets from his jacket before school due to his mother watching over him as he dresses. What's worse for Jam, Mrs. Bruce makes him wear new clothes she'd bought for him at KMart. Jam's mother later discovers the tickets (screaming her disapproval over the school's PA system) and destroys them in front of Jam (and the others, watching around the corner) by setting them on fire.
Mrs. Bruce then drags Jam from his school and has him transferred to a Catholic boarding school upstate. This leaves the remaining boys in a state of shock. While in tech class, the three remaining boys hear a radio contest for KISS concert tickets at Cobo Hall that night. Trip leaves class, so he can call the contest line and he ends up winning the tickets. The boys then ditch school to bust Jam out of the Catholic school. They take Lex's mom's car, a Volvo 200 series. The trio arrives and Hawk disguises himself as an arriving pizza delivery guy and delivers a pizza ordered by the priest (Joe Flaherty) that is scolding Jam that he spikes with hallucinogenic psilocybin mushrooms to the priest which makes him high, allowing them to all leave.
On the freeway, a Solar Gold 1978 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am begins tailgating them. Trip drops some pizza on his lap and throws the slice of pizza out of the window. It hits the windshield of the Trans-Am, causing a dispute that results in the driver of the Trans Am, Kenny, pulling Hawk out of the car and rubbing his face in the pizza on the windshield. This upsets one of the passengers of the Trans Am, Christine (Natasha Lyonne). She argues with the driver and leaves, walking down the freeway.
Kenny, still upset, tosses an 8-track of the Kiss album Love Gun into the way of an oncoming fire truck, smashing it. Hawk then knocks Kenny to the ground. The four friends then leave the Trans Am in a ditch and chain Kenny and the other passengers to a guard rail. The boys leave and later pick up Christine, who decides to accompany them to Detroit.
Upon arrival, they find out that Trip did not stay on the phone long enough to give the radio station his information, forcing the station to give the tickets to the next caller. When coming back outside, Lex notices that the car has been stolen, and they suspect Christine, who they left in the car. Lex initially wants to call the police until Hawk points out that they are in Detroit and it is unlikely the police will spend city money looking for a foreign made car. Hawk then states that the boys go their separate ways in order to find Kiss tickets, and agree to meet in the same place later.
Jam encounters his mother who is leading an anti-Kiss rally. Mrs. Bruce grabs his shirt and drags him to a church across the street. Hawk finds a scalper who suggests that he enter a strip contest at a nearby stip club to raise money for tickets. Trip goes to a local convenience store in the hopes of mugging a younger child to get tickets. He ends up being beaten up by the child's older brother and his thugs who demand that he pay them for the trouble. Trip ends up thwarting a robbery attempt at the store. Trip meets the thugs in an alleyway behind the store, but the younger brother, deciding that Trip didn't meet their demands, has his older brother punch Trip in the stomach while taking his wallet. Meanwhile Lex sneaks into the backstage area with the Kiss loading crew to help set up the concert, but is soon discovered and found, causing him to flee from arena security and manages to get to the area where the band's trailer is located.
Lex is eventually caught and tossed over a fence by the guards. In a nearby building he finds Christine and his car in a chop shop with two workers. Lex then uses his newly befriended dogs to chase the two thugs into a back office room, saving Christine and his mom's car. Jam decides to go back to the rally, determined this time to take a stand.
Jam finally stands up for himself, getting revenge at his mother for her controlling and domineering ways by yelling at her before the assembled crowd, telling her that forcing religion and morality down his throat are the reasons that he has been rebelling lately and how he just had sex in the church confessional. Jam then demands that she return his drumsticks, only receiving one of them as the other is broken in the trash.
When the boys meet up again, none of them have had any luck getting tickets, so in a last-ditch effort, Jam decides that they should beat each other up and say that muggers took their tickets. They do so, and upon arrival at the concert, they tell the guards that they were mugged by four people. The guards don't believe them, so Trip points out to the guards the thugs from the store, who are just entering the concert hall. The guard finds Trip's wallet (with his Kiss Army picture ID) in their pockets, and hands him the tickets, ejecting the others outside. The boys enter and KISS plays the title song of the movie, "Detroit Rock City". Jam catches a drum stick thrown by drummer Peter Criss as the film ends.
Detroit Rock City received mixed reception from critics and KISS fans. On the review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film got a "Rotten" score of 46%, although the user section on the site was much more positive with a "Fresh" score of 80% (C on boxofficemojo.com) and a 33 out of 100 rating, which indicates "Generally unfavorable reviews", at Metacritic.
In December 2007, the film was re-released on DVD as an exclusive bonus fifth disc contained within Kissology Volume Three: 1992–2000. This disc was only available with initial pre-orders sold during VH1 Classic's 24 Hours of KISSmas weekend marathon.
The soundtrack album however contains some covers of the original songs, some of which were not in the movie itself. The following originals were played in the movie...
Other songs performed in the movie but not featured on the soundtrack are:
Some songs in the movie were not released until later periods of times, such as David Naughton's "Makin' It" (the disco song the "guidos" and the "stellas" on the highway were listening to) which was released early 1979, and the AC/DC song "Highway To Hell", which was also released in 1979. However, the latter served only as ironic background music and was most likely not intended to be diegetic.