FILM REVIEW: Mötley Crüe – The Dirt by Jeff Tremaine

We have heard the hype about The Dirt, the biopic about Mötley Crüe for a long time. They have tried to make this film for ages, while it languished in development hell, finally getting made and out now streaming on Netflix. By the bands’ own admission, much like the book, the film is full of exaggerated lurid rock star clichés and partially real stories about the band. It’s just so out there and real. Too real for most people, like the band was at times. 

Directed by Jeff Tremaine (Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa), and starring Machine Gun Kelly as Tommy Lee, Daniel Webber (The Punisher), as singer Vince Neil, Douglas Booth as bassist Nikki Sixx, and Iwan Rheon (Game Of Thrones, Misfits UK) as guitarist Mick Mars. The film also has stand out performances by David Costabile as Doc McGhee, Tony Cavalero as Ozzy Osbourne, and Saturday Night Live’s own bad boy Pete Davidson as music executive Tom Zutaut. The film was directed by Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa director Jeff Tremaine. Rheon and Costabile being the most accomplished actors here with some of better-written parts are at times amazing. Booth is solid at Sixx, who is and has always been the leader of Crüe. As goes Nikki, so goes the band, so his story is central to the whole story.

Much like all biopics and especially music biopics, the film charts the rise, fall, and rise again of the band and the members’ personal lives. Yes, there are predictable beats because we are getting troped on in these films as a rule. There are a ton of great 1980s and sunset strip references (the clothes, makeup, drugs, curly paper faxes) that feel real. The film does poke fun of itself, a lot, especially its loose and fast telling of the facts, with the omission of their co-manager Doug Thaler joked about with a pun and a dissolving shot. Not sure if that is justice to the man or not, but the film has an awareness of how absurd things are from the first few minutes in, so there’s that.

Sex, drugs, and music are central, as well as band drama. The film is faithful to the book in that the book was built on a lot of stories that may or may not be true in retrospect. Still, it makes for occasional good drama, and a played for a fair amount of laughs. There is a lot of Ferris’ Bueler/Deadpool breaking the fourth wall and I am not sure what is up with this trend in films. Lords of Chaos also had this device. Hmm.  The treatment of women, even the way women are filmed, as objects to use and abuse is awful but not all that shocking, knowing the history. But it is shocking to see this so celebrated as much as any accomplishment the band had. I know this was the norm for that entire generation but it’s just sad that the women in their lives who they rode (literally) to fame and leeched off didn’t matter more to them. Current champions of the #metoo movement (a.k.a. any of us with decency left) will get physically sick watching some of this.

On the plus side, if you loved the stories of the music and how they made it from The Dirt book and read Nikki Sixx’s The Heroin Diaries, you will love it. The flick offers scenes that were direct retellings of some of those chapters and they are the best parts of the film. Nikki and Vince have the most interesting character arcs as people, but the young actors struggle to convince the viewer of the emotional depths they went through. When Vince has to explain to his daughter how cancerous tumors work, before she eventually passes away, the toughest person is going to break down cry. 

And the music – it’s no Bohemian Rhapsody, but the love for the glam metal classics is admirable with some classic hits, deep cuts, a few choice Crüe covers by others leading the way. ‘Home Sweet Home’ such a classic song, and so cinematic a lyric that even the tease of the piano notes are thrilling in context to the scenes surrounding them. They guys even do a fair job imitating the style and performance of the original band. Some of the mannerisms are spot on, and as the end-credits play in the style of The Hangover to the music of the film’s title track, we see frame by frame shots the film copied from Crüe history that shows the actors and the director cared enough to try to get a lot of things right.

Overall, despite some serious missteps, The Dirt like its counterpart book is an enjoyable, unapologetic accounting of the band and their times. The film is a lot of fun and reminds us of how Crüe earned their reputations as hellraisers and rock legends.

7 / 10

KEITH CHACHKES