There’s nothing more disappointing than taking a bite out of what appears to be a freshly baked brownie and finding out it’s really just a fat, steaming turd. Okay, most people (including me) haven’t munched on a shit log. But I imagine it’s similar to the level of bait-and-switch disappointment of having sat through Netflix’s The Dirt, the movie based on Motley Crue’s autobiographical tome of the same name.
While Queen biopic, Bohemian Rhapsody, took liberties with the story of Freddie Mercury and his bandmates — fudging some details and inventing others for the sake of driving a Hollywood drama, The Dirt bungles so much of the Crue’s history that it feels more like cut-rate Cliff’s Notes than a cinematic retelling.
I had my misgivings about The Dirt after having watched the trailer. Watching the film in its entirety confirmed them.
It was inevitable, given the way the film’s script had been passed around for years like a tub of French onion dip before finding a home and a director. Despite Motley Crue bassist Nikki Sixx’s insistence that the film is “honest” and “rougher around the edges,” it’s none of that. If you want a gritty movie, you dial up Darren Aronofsky, not Jeff Tremaine — the dude behind Jackass the Movie and Bad Grandpa. (Mind you, I loved both of those flicks, but that guy would not have been the person I’d pick to helm a version of The Dirt.)
The first half of the film was campy fun that came across like a glorified rock n’ roll cartoon with lots of tits and blow. And that’s great! If you’re going for camp, own it! However, the second half of the film was where things went south in a hurry. Once some of the more dramatic elements of the band’s story came into focus, The Dirt devolved into a bad afterschool special, highlighting the fact that the writers and director were ill-equipped to deal with anything deeper than a handjob.
Here’s “the dirt” on what’s good and bad about The Dirt:
- Colson Baker (better known as “Machine Gun Kelly”) as Tommy Lee. MGK is the saving grace of the film. He nails Tommy’s mannerisms, portraying him as a mostly likeable, libido-driven, rock n’ roll doofus with the energy of a Cocker Spaniel puppy.
- Iwan Rheon as Mick Mars. The Welsh actor once again proves he can tackle and disappear into any role, taking on the mantle of stoic guitarist Mick Mars. You don’t realize that this is the guy who played Ramsay Bolton, one of the most vile characters in Game of Thrones or the dimwitted neighbor Ash on Vicious. Rather, he’s highly convincing as a curmudgeonly musician fighting his battles alone while trying to be a voice of reason to his younger band mates.
- The camp factor. The first half of the film really leans into campy fun. At first, The Dirt doesn’t seem like it’s going to take itself too seriously. This later becomes a detriment when it becomes evident that the writers and director behind The Dirt didn’t know how to handle the more tragic aspects of the band’s history. They just couldn’t process anything with even a sliver of emotional trauma, instead glossing over them in favor of the next under-the-table hummer joke.
- Douglas Booth as Nikki Sixx. Booth’s portrayal lacked the sneering sarcasm, charisma, and swagger of the real Nikki Sixx. Instead, Booth played him as a sad little-boy-lost whose inner monologue was a constant scream of “why don’t you love me, Mom & Dad?!” There was no subtext to the role and Sixx came across as more of a male Mary Sue than the captain of the Crue ship. (Another gripe I have with the film is that it inaccurately painted Vince Neil as more of the band’s leader than Nikki Sixx.)
- Non-chronological Crue. The Dirt feels like whoever wrote it didn’t read the book. Instead, they just skimmed through a bunch of Amazon.com reviews and turned them into a movie. As mentioned before, Vince Neil is made out to be the driving force of the band. Entire albums and marriages are glossed over, as are key moments in Crue history. Their first sober gig at the Moscow Music Peace Festival? Not here. The band’s odious original lead singer (for two seconds) O’Dean? Not present and a missed comedy opportunity. Nikki Sixx’s bond with his grandparents? Nope. Sixx’s discovery of his half-sister? A poignant moment chucked in favor of meeting a half-brother at their father’s gravesite and the brother saying, “I totally fucked to your music. By the way, our dad was a dick.” (Great writing, right there!) Important moments like their 1997 Generation Swine reunion with Vince followed by Tommy Lee leaving the band are omitted, as are the real circumstances of their 2004 reunion. Lame.
- As a character, Mick Mars is marginalized. Nikki Sixx’s heroin spoons have more of a plot line than poor Mick in The Dirt. The most likeable and compelling persona within Motley Crue once again gets the shaft. This time it’s on screen. His storyline is barely hinted at as the band’s token “old man” who’s paying child support and praying for a chance to make his mark on the music scene before a degenerative bone disease robs him of the opportunity. Mick’s personal life is largely ignored by the film and Iwan Rheon is thrown a few bones of expository lines to justify his paycheck, making lemonade out of lemons.
- Daniel Webber’s lip-synching as Vince Neil. Webber did an adequate job as the band’s blonde lead singer, adapting some of Neil’s mannerisms very well in some respects and doing a ho-hum job in other areas. One of those areas was his distractingly bad lip synching.
- The wigs. The Dirt blew their wig budget on MGK’s Tommy Lee hairpieces, doing a good job of replicating his long mohawk from the Dr. Feelgood days and his shaggy short hair during the Corabi-era. They must have ran out of cash for the other actors’ wigs because they look like they got them on clearance at Party City.
- Motley Crue as archetypes, not people. The Dirt portrayed Motley Crue as a pack of moronic, amoral musicians with zero redeeming qualities (with the exception of Mick Mars whose on-screen counterpart excluded himself from much of the buffoonery). What made the book great was that it showed each member of the band at their worst and their best, giving you an understanding of why each of the four Crue members were the way they are. The movie boiled Sixx, Mars, Neil, and Lee down to overly simplified archetypes: (sad) runaway, old man, cover band singer / primadonna, and kid drummer / dingus.
If you’re a die-hard Motley Crue fan, you’re going to be disappointed with The Dirt. It could have easily merited a satisfying Netflix mini series instead of a ham-fisted one-hour-and-48-minute adaptation. Then again, your nostalgia goggles might be thick enough to find this sloppy slapdash offering to be endearing.
In any case, The Dirt is probably best watched with alcohol or during a NyQuil-fuzzed day off from school or work.