Review: The Dirt
Hollywood's Sunset Strip in the 1980s was a vicious hellscape populated by an insane amount of bands just trying to make it big. The most popular of them, outside of Guns N Roses, was Mötley Crüe, a ragtag group of miscreants led by the magnetic personality of bassist/lyricist Nikki Sixx and his three friends. Jeff Tremaine's The Dirt, based on the band's 2001 autobiography ‘The Dirt: Confessions of the World's Most Notorious Rock Band’, dramatizes their meteoric rise, fall, and eventual reunion in a fast-paced two hours. Never ones to shy away from the more offensive and seedy backroom escapades of their past, The Dirt is a scars and all music biopic that's also a ton of fun.
In development hell for well over a decade, with a parade of stars attached over the years, The Dirt has finally seen the light of day thanks to Netflix and fans of the band will have little to complain about. Members and side characters have been cast well from Douglas Booth (Jupiter Ascending) as Nikki Sixx, Daniel Webber (11.22.63) as lead singer Vince Neil, Iwan Rheon (Game of Thrones) as guitarist Mick Mars, and the big surprise here, rapper Machine Gun Kelly AKA Colson Baker (Nerve) as drummer Tommy Lee. Kelly is the comedic backbone of the picture, highlighted by a five minute POV sequence chronicling the ‘Day in the Life of a Trainwreck’, and manages to impress with his performance. He's got the boyish looks and swagger to carry the role yet not avoid just how problematic Lee was at the time, able to be both highly intoxicating and terrifying all at once, highlighted by one scene in particular where he assaults his fiance. It's brutal and comes as a shock but it's in tune with the rest of the crazy story that unfolds.
Tremaine keeps the action fast and loose but never steers clear of the inherent drama in a story like this. Sex, Drugs, and Rock n Roll was the ethos of the day and The Dirt puts that in sharp display. His work with the Jackass boys through the years clearly prepared him for the antics that Crüe got themselves into. The opening scene in particular brings to mind the whirlwind pre-credits scenes of Jackass Number Two or Jackass 3D, with its spinning camera, snap-zooms, and slow-motion. Another sequence, midway through the film featuring an out of his mind Ozzy Osbourne and a line of ants is right out of the Jackass playbook so Tremaine shoots it as a stunt, and it's possibly the grossest thing on display in a movie filled with shocks. Later in the film when it focuses on a devastating car crash, drug overdoses, and the heartbreaking death of a band member's child, The Dirt reveals a hidden depth, forcing the cast to not just be silly caricatures and stretch their dramatic muscles. It works more often than not, even when the cracks start to show in the performer's abilities to sell the scene.
With enough powder to kill Andre the Giant, Mötley Crüe tear their way through the decade becoming huge stars in classic biopic fashion. Does The Dirt reinvent the wheel when it comes to these kinds of stories? No, of course not, but it's still a wild ride that's very entertaining to boot. Previously adapted by the band themselves in 2008 for their ‘Saints of Los Angeles’ record, a hard rock concept album that chronicled the events depicted in both the book and the film. It stands as the band's final studio record and one of their best. The Crüe obviously care about their story and what matters to fans, so both are filled with high crimes and misdemeanors. We get a lot of that in The Dirt and overall the movie is better for it. Unlike other rock biopics, this one isn't afraid to broach the down and dirty elements of a Sunset Strip band on the rise, and decline.
Fans will have a lot to celebrate, if you grew up on the Crüe, you're going to have a blast. For the uninitiated, there's still a good time to be had as well, with magnetic performances (again, Kelly is the highlight here) and well staged concert sequences. The Dirt is a movie of ups and downs and even though it might not be as impactful as it wants to be, and at times very messy, it's still well worth the trip to a bygone era of hard rock, hard drugs, and even harder falls.