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NewCityNet Kiss 'N' Tell

Gene Simmons explains why "Detroit Rock City" was a good bet

By Ray Pride

AUGUST 16, 1999:  Four guys in a KISS tribute band in Cleveland 1978, and KISS is coming to Detroit? What's a boy to do?

The answer in Adam Rifkin's terrific comedy, "Detroit Rock City," is "road trip!" Their rolling series of quests and setbacks to get tickets makes for maybe the most footloose rock 'n' roll movie since "Rock 'n' Roll High School." The quartet of every-schmos are well-cast - laid-back Edward Furlong, disgustingly perky Sam Huntington, thick-as-cement James De Bello, hilariously disconnected Giuseppe Andrews - but Rifkin's omnivorous visual style punches the vulgar, cheesy story across in an endearingly kinetic and hyper 1970s movie-brat style, with swoopy 'Scope widescreen like John Carpenter's. (It's like taking it all in through the wide eyes of a stoned teen.) Editing tricks learned from Richard Lester's "A Hard Day's Night" aren't wasted, either. (The movie seems to slow down when Rifkin cuts to a shot inside a pinball machine.) As one of the writers of movies like "Mousehunt," "Little Soldiers," Rifkin has demonstrated a burgeoning pop sensitivity, and working from first-timer Carl V. Dupre's script, he's turned out a shamelessly entertaining, lovingly vulgar pop artifact. It's an elevation of the truly low, from Furlong's exquisitely prolonged puke scene to the often sexist, crude dialogue: "Man, I"ve never heard a girl blow ass before"; "Disco blows dogs for quarters"; "and "This is better than the first time I got to finger a chick, man."

Credit for the movie hitting screens has to go to the ultimate boomer-rocker-cum-marketing maven, Gene Simmons, who turns 50 August 25. Out of makeup, Simmons speaks as methodically as the schoolteacher he once was. What kind of movie producer is Simmons?

"Let's see if I can get my jaw to start moving this early. I was developing a KISS motion picture. As in all things KISS, I wanted to make a spectacle of myself and the band. That's my job. The idea that stuck was that we'd have a big special-effects laden kind of KISS-as-the-X-Men type of movie. We're superheroes and we save mankind from itself. But at the same time, Barry Levine, who started out as our photographer, had found 'Detroit Rock City.' When I read that, I told him that he couldn't make that movie because we own underlying rights, makeup and logos and all that. But I wouldn't mind that being developed as a TV movie, while developing the larger-scale KISS motion picture. It became very clear to me the process would take another two years until the movie was released. So I already had a finished script, although this bizarre little script was a KISS film, but not really a KISS film, in the same way that 'The Wizard of Oz' is not really about The Wizard, but is more precisely about four characters on the Yellow Brick Road."

Simmons pauses. "Is this good? Do you need shorter answers? Either way, KISS would win. If it's a big success, of course it's a KISS film, if it's not, oh no, it's not really a KISS film, it's not my fault. A large part of "Detroit Rock City" etches classic juvenile male salvation fantasies. "I'd like to point out perhaps that it's not limited to juvenile fantasy - male fantasy, let's say," Simmons purrs. "We never grow up. It only continues. We don't change. Our lives get better, the women get better. We don't change. We're always the same. The eternal chase for skirt, that's what we're meant to do."

Was there any charm in the story for Simmons? "For me, it's opportunity knocks. Bird in the hand and all that. It has more to do for me with an agenda. Everyone talks about content first. I like good things just as much as anybody else. But there's a kind of an faux-interview done by everybody , they say, 'This is just what I wanted to do.' It's not. This is an opportunity that came along that fell into a calendar that made sense." The big promotional guns come out again. "We were on tour, I wanted a movie in between tours because I'm also finalizing the KISS Psycho-Circus Saturday morning cartoon show and the KISS wrestler, the Demon, is debuting on WCW-Turner August 23. Just in terms of putting content into a slot, it made sense. This idea that there's only one project you have to do, that's nonsense."

The goal is that the band, and the band's brand, endure. "KISS was formed as the band we always wanted to see on stage. There's not an atomic particle of originality in what KISS does. You be original. You be cutting-edge. You blaze the trail and when it's a nice comfortable trip, I will follow. I don't want to be first, I want to do it right."

Ever bored? "I love it. I'd rather stay out on tour. The eternal tour, the rest of the day you're doing nothing. It's astonishing what fringe benefits there are being in KISS. It defies all logic. If I was a dentist, I'd have to knock out my patients. But on tour you can get laid twenty-four hours a day as much as you can physically bear. You can have anybody doing anything for you. You're a king on the road. At home, I've got to take out my own garbage."

The climax of the film - if you ever doubted the boys would miss their heroes - is every KISS concert effect condensed into three minutes of screen time. "On our day off from our tour, we had to put the makeup on, different sets of outfits. There was a facsimile of the stage set used in '77 that the crew put together and we made-believe we went back in time." He grins, "Of course, our makeup allows you be twenty years younger" - he snaps his fingers - "like that."

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