Review: Michael Bolton’s Detroit doc in love with city

‘American Dream: Detroit’ premieres in theaters on Tuesday for one night only

Adam Graham
The Detroit News

Michael Bolton isn’t out to save Detroit. He doesn’t have all the answers. He just wants to sing the city a love song.

That’s the upshot of “American Dream: Detroit,” the Detroit documentary helmed by Bolton, the soft rock balladeer, inspired by his love of the city.

Bolton began working on the documentary in 2012, and he previewed footage to media in 2015, ahead of a Fox Theatre gala event with many of the star’s subjects in attendance.

Two and a half years later, the completed film will air in select theaters Tuesday, with Bolton appearing at a special event at the Redford Theatre.

The 90-minute doc features interviews with many notable Detroiters, among them Smokey Robinson, Aretha Franklin, Alice Cooper, Francis Ford Coppola, Jerry Bruckheimer, Mitch Albom, John Varvatos and others. They help tell the familiar tale of Detroit, its rise and fall, from manufacturing mecca and birthplace of Motown to the 1967 riots, the 2008 auto bailout and the resurgence of today.

Bolton, who directed the film alongside Christina Kline, doesn’t dig too deep or get any dirt on his hands; “American Dream” skims the surface of its subject and keeps a general sense of positivity flowing throughout. It often feels like a production of Detroit’s tourism board.

Occasionally it loses its focus; at one point, Bolton begins telling the story of his own career and his struggles to hit it big, which has as much purpose in a Detroit documentary as a sidebar on the Montreal Expos.

And much of what he uncovers is familiar, including the revitalization efforts of Shinola, Dan Gilbert and others in the downtown sphere. A lengthy section with “Detroit ambassador” Bruce “Detroit Bruce” Schwartz feels like being trapped on a Bedrock property tour.

Meanwhile, the film focuses on figureheads who wax on Detroit from afar — Bruckheimer, Coppola and Cooper haven’t lived in the city for decades — while voices of everyday Detroiters are lacking. And the film centers squarely on the efforts being made downtown, never venturing out into the city’s neighborhoods, the true heartbeat of the city.

But it’s a film by Bolton, which rose in part from “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough: A Tribute to Hitsville U.S.A.,” his 2013 album of Motown covers, so it was never going to be a hard-hitting look at the city’s issues. If it came as a DVD with that set, it would be an impressive bonus feature.

Late in the film, Bolton calls the movie “the positive story I was determined to tell” and a “love letter” to Detroit. There, he succeeds. Like any love letter, “American Dream: Detroit” is sincere, gushy and starry eyed, but it gets its point across.


(313) 222-2284


‘American Dream: Detroit’


Not rated: Nothing objectionable

Running time: 90 minutes

Live appearance by Michael Bolton

7 p.m. Tuesday

Redford Theatre, 17360 Lahser, Detroit